CUYAHOGA HEIGHTS, Ohio — About eight weeks after school started for many students across Northeast Ohio, the rules are about to change in how districts can address the ongoing pandemic.
House Bill 244, signed into law back in July, goes into effect beginning Wednesday.
Under its final version, the law prohibits public schools and colleges from requiring students and employees to get any COVID-19 vaccine that has not received full FDA approval. It also restricts school districts from treating their students any differently based on their COVID-19 vaccination status.
When the bill was first introduced back in March, it focused strictly on addressing the education of children in military families. However, it was amended at the end of the legislative session to include provisions tied to the COVID-19 vaccine.
Right now, only the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine has received full FDA approval, specifically for those 16 and older. Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine remains under emergency use authorization for those 12-16 years old.
In a statement to News 5, Cuyahoga County Health Commissioner Terry Allan released the following statement in response to House Bill 244:
“Any efforts to prevent schools and universities that choose to require COVID-19 vaccine to protect their staff and students are counterproductive and only serve to prolong the pandemic. Vaccines that protect against mumps, measles, rubella, diphtheria, tetanus, polio, meningitis, and hepatitis are among those already required for school attendance. That makes good sense. Vaccines are widely proven to prevent the spread of infectious diseases that stand in the way of a child’s ability to learn.”
On Tuesday, Governor Mike DeWine said he hoped within the next month to see Pfizer receive emergency use approval for the vaccine in children 5-11 years old.
“We're going to hit another critical point,” he said. “Once that happens, all school children basically will be eligible. It's going to be really, really important for us to get as many of these schoolchildren vaccinated as possible.”
For much of the summer, parents all over, including in Cuyahoga Heights, voiced their concerns surrounding what could come of their school district’s COVID-19 and vaccine policy.
“I believe the recommendations for masking need to be enforced,” said one parent in an email read to the Cuyahoga Heights School board during their meeting on August 11.
“I want to urge you guys as a school board to stick with letting it be parents' choice,” said another parent during the same meeting.
Superintendent Tom Evans told News 5 the district started with masks optional at all its buildings but switched to masks required at the elementary school after a rise in cases there.
“Our goal is to keep students in the building,” he said. “We are just trying to roll with the punches as we go. We want to keep the students here. We know we’re most effective when they're here.”
Evans admits the looming House Bill 244 did impact how they settled on their guidelines for the upcoming school year.
“We saw it coming and we weren’t going to make any drastic decisions so the decisions we made back, in the beginning, knowing that was down the road,” he said.