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In-person classes would force 'fearful' CPS teachers to choose between health, livelihood

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Posted at 6:50 PM, Jul 13, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-13 19:04:49-04

CINCINNATI — At a Monday meeting of the Cincinnati Public Schools Board of Education, dozens of teachers lobbied to delay the district’s scheduled reopening and switch to a fully virtual structure until the threat of COVID-19 is less severe.

Although parents can apply to homeschool their children during the 2020-’21 school year instead of beginning a blended curriculum on Aug. 24, teachers employed by the district can only show up in person — or risk losing their jobs.

“I have no choice,” teacher Lexie Lopez-Mayo said. “I have to work. So that means that I’m either putting my life at risk or my children’s life at risk because you’re sending me back into the schools.”

Her plea was especially urgent in light of Hamilton County’s status as one of Ohio’s COVID-19 “hotspots.” On the Ohio Department of Health’s color-coded state map, which ranks each county from yellow (least risk) to purple (most risk), Hamilton County is red and getting darker.

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Gov. Mike DeWine ordered every person in the county to go masked in public starting July 8. If daily diagnosis totals don’t decline by the end of the week, he’ll officially raise the crisis level to purple — a level at which residents should “only leave home for supplies and services,” per ODH’s website.

Cincinnati Public Schools’ blended learning plan, which would divide each school’s student body in half and allow the two groups to attend in-person lessons on different days, might have been fine if not for the sudden upswing in diagnoses, said Cincinnati Federation of Teachers president Julie Sellers.

Now, she and many other educators believe it’s untenable.

“I think that the district’s plan has great guidelines, but not at the purple level where we’re headed,” she said. “They should put in remote learning until the cases go down.”

The extant plan would require face masks to be worn inside school buildings and send each student home with a laptop to ensure they can attend lessons remotely on their days off from in-person instruction. Families without internet access can get 60 days for free through Spectrum.

Board of Education member Mike Moroski admitted he was unsure whether the district should talk about in-person reopening under current conditions.

However, he added, keeping the buildings closed would mean losing more funding and laying off more staff.

“I’m confident our schools are going to be the safest places in the city,” he said finally. “The plan that I saw today and precautions we are taking all summer long, our buildings are going to be safe.”

Safe enough? Lopez-Mayo said she didn’t think so.

Sellers agreed. She’s heard enough from her fellow teachers to know how deep the anxiety — and the tug-of-war between the desire to be safe and the need to make money — really goes.

“They are fearful,” she said.