CLEVELAND — Some school districts will return to the building after almost a year of learning from home.
Gov. Mike DeWine originally wanted all schools to be back to some form of in-person learning by March 1. However, school districts like Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD) and Akron Public Schools will begin phasing their students back to the classroom on March 8. The Cleveland Teachers Union (CTU) is telling 5,000 members to continue teaching remotely from home after calling DeWine’s deadline unreasonable and forced.
During a union meeting Thursday night, the group voted to keep remote learning going. In a statement after the vote, the union said they want more Personal Protection Equipment (PPE), better ventilation and other measures.
CTU members say the district has failed to address their concerns and have yet to provide requested documentation. The group even accused school CEO Eric Gordon of bowing to pressure from the governor's office.
CTU President Shari Obrenski told News 5 safety teams have only completed about one-third of their inspections at the districts more than 100 buildings. Obrenski said she expects those inspections won't be completed until the middle of this coming week.
“Teachers wouldn’t be able to do their job, because the equipment simply isn’t there for them to do their job," Obrenski said. “Having a vaccination, and a first dose of a vaccination, doesn’t keep you from getting COVID. My vaccination does not help my students, my students are still at risk for COVID. Their families are still at risk for COVID, if we aren’t doing what we need to do.
“There's a lot of pearl clutching over missing the March 1 deadline, when all of the leaders who signed onto this, really in good faith, believed that it was not something that was not written in stone. I think there was a lot of undue pressure placed on the the district. I mean when your CEO is called out in a Friday night press conference by the governor, and basically castigated in front of the entire state, that kind of ramps up the pressure.”
Tiscisia Cole who is Cleveland schools parent of four children said this on-going battle has been especially hard on parents and children. Cole believes the decision on when to safely return to in-classroom learning should rest with the teachers.
“I think it should be the decision of the teacher all the time to determine that," Cole said.
“I don’t believe that anyone should force anything, the teachers have enough load to carry already.”
“They should be the one to determine their preparedness, because they are the ones who have to instruct the classroom.”
DeWine expressed his disappointment after learning some major districts, including CMSD, made it clear they would not meet the deadline.
Lt. Gov. Jon Husted also weighed in on Twitter, blasting Cleveland teachers for violating their agreement with the state.
Cleveland school personnel jumped to the front of the line to get vaccines in return for going back to school in-person March 1. Now the union is violating that agreement. If you weren’t going to go back to work then you shouldn’t have taken the vaccine https://t.co/TXUD435LOD— Jon Husted (@JonHusted) March 5, 2021
According to CMSD’s reopening plan, only teachers will return to their classrooms under phase one. The plan notes students would return in the coming weeks. Yet, CEO Eric Gordon wanted one more week to get staff and students back.
“We can have a much more effective start,” Gordon said. “We have to plan for the best start possible and that’s what changed.”
According to CMSD, the district has "spent a great deal of time, effort and money preparing" its schools with the following:
- Ample Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for each school and classroom, additional cleaning and sanitation supplies for each school and classroom, hand sanitizer gel and disinfectant spray for every single classroom.
- Enhanced sanitizing and cleaning procedures for every building.
- COVID-19-related signage.
- Installation of Quarantine Centers for students and adults displaying COVID-like symptoms while at school.
- Reconfigured classrooms, offices, cafeterias, restrooms, and other school facilities to meet social distancing requirements.
- Updating of technology available to classroom teachers, including additional laptops, cameras, microphones, and earbuds.
- The enhancing of ventilation systems with higher-grade filters, the installation of portable air purifier units in older school buildings, and more.
Additionally, the district said it will work with the CTU on specific concerns that are identified in buildings and classrooms.
"The district believes teachers and other professionals have an ethical responsibility to return to their classrooms on Monday; however, we will not lock teachers out of their digital classrooms. While doing so may be an effective negotiating tactic to place pressure on teachers and the Cleveland Teachers Union, it would also be done at the expense of our students, and that is something the district will not do," CMSD said.
It added, "CMSD will continue our current efforts to prepare our students and parents for the phased-in return to school we previously announced, with the full expectation that any specifically identified concerns of the Cleveland Teachers Union can and will be effectively addressed."
On Friday, during a news conference regarding the opening of the Wolstein Center as a mass vaccination site, DeWine commented on the state of Cleveland's schools and the announcement made by the CTU about remote learning.
He said that most of Ohio's children are back in school and due to masks mandates with teachers and students wearing masks; the state hasn't seen the spread of COVID-19 in the classroom.
"And so, kids have been out for a year now, it's time for the Cleveland city children to be able to go back to school and in person," DeWine said.