CINCINNATI — Cincinnati Public Schools announced on Saturday the district plans to allow students to return to the classroom in a hybrid, part-time model, beginning on February 1, but the announcement has met a mixed response from teachers and parents alike as vaccines remain just out of the district's hands.
While students and parents will be given the option to return, teachers and staff must return, despite Hamilton County obtaining purple status on Ohio Department of Health’s color-coded COVID-19 risk map just days before the district announced their decision.
Many teachers have signed a letter they plan to send to school board members, deeming the return to classrooms before COVID-19 vaccinations are available is reckless.
"I don't know why they are minimizing the lives of the employees," said Julie Sellers, president of the Cincinnati Federation of Teachers. "We are this close to having a vaccine. Why are we jeopardizing people's lives at this point? And it's not just the lives of the employees; it's the lives of the students, it's the lives of their families."
Governor Mike DeWine announced that schools that commit to a return to the classroom, at least part time, by March 1 will get supplies to vaccinate staff on February 1, leaving parents and teachers to wonder why CPS isn't waiting that extra month out of safety.
"The teachers aren't going to have time to be vaccinated," said Krystan Krailler, a mother of two elementary school children. "They have to have two doses however many weeks apart that those doses need to be and so if they started in February with the vaccinations, they could probably get most of the teachers their vaccinations before they started back."
Less than one month ago, the school board announced CPS would return to a blended model when Hamilton County's case rate fell to 40 cases in every 100,000 people. This notion came up in Saturday's discussion of whether or not that benchmark should still be held as the standard.
"If you’re only looking at the color coding system from the governor, that can paint you in a box. If you look at the number 40, that can paint you in a box," said Laura Mitchell, CPS superintendent, during Saturday's meeting.
According to the Hamilton County Department of Public Health, the county's current case rate is 69.3 per 100,000 people, and the county is the only one in the state at purple status currently. The state recommends people living in counties ranked purple only leave home for supplies and necessary services.
Board member Mike Moroski said Saturday's decision was to recommend the superintendent send a letter to the state in order to stake out a place on the vaccine list. He said attempting to vaccinate everyone before the return to classrooms isn't that easy.
"There's no scenario where everybody can get both vaccines and then wait the requisite 14 days to get back," he said.
The Federation of Teachers said the defense could be to take legal action, but Sellers said that's not an ideal route for anyone.
"You don't really want to get into a situation where everything becomes legal action," she said. "That's not good for relationships. But I do know right now the majority of teachers have lost their trust that the district is looking out for them."