Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine won’t issue a state-level order to shut down in-person learning, he said in his Wednesday night address and Thursday afternoon news conference, but they could shut down all the same if COVID-19 continues to spread unchecked throughout the state.
“There’s going to probably come a point where we’re going to have to have that conversation about shutting it down if the numbers continue to spike in the community,” said Lakota Local Schools superintendent Matt Miller on Thursday.
Ohio now sees thousands of new cases every day, according to data released by the Ohio Department of Health. And high levels of community spread can essentially nullify the protections that school districts have implemented to keep students, staff and teachers from catching COVID-19 on campus.
A teacher who wears a mask at school but lives with a roommate who attended an unmasked wedding can still become sick. Even if she doesn’t develop symptoms, she may have to quarantine for 14 days and miss class time as a result.
The resulting staffing shortages are among the biggest challenges for districts hoping to continue in-person learning during the pandemic, Miller said.
“Substitutes are hard to get in quote-unquote ‘normal times,’” he said. “But really hard during COVID as well.”
His is the largest school district in Butler County and the ninth largest in Ohio. If its buildings can’t be open, 16,800 students will have to find remote-learning solutions on short notice.
Lakota began in-person classes in August and has continued to hold them without interruption, but Miller said he knows his staff is worried by the state’s latest numbers.
“There’s a lot of stress right now because we’re trying to educate kids and take care of ourselves and take care of our own kids during the middle of a pandemic,” he said.
Some other local districts have already opted to move online. Cincinnati Public Schools, more than twice as large as Lakota, will transition to an all-remote model starting Nov. 23 and lasting into the new year.
Miller said he believes children learn best in a classroom setting. DeWine has said the same thing, and so have the Cincinnati Public Schools board of education members who voted to take their district online.
But in-person learning can’t happen without healthy teachers who feel comfortable going to work.
Teachers, administrators and DeWine all have the same message for Ohioans: Wear a mask, keep your distance and wash your hands frequently. The classroom can’t be safe if the community outside isn’t.