COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine held an unusual Friday night news conference and intimated that Ohio school districts that choose not to return to in-person learning by March 1 will no longer be eligible to receive vaccinations for their staff as part of the Phase 1B distribution currently taking place.
The governor’s decision appears to have been prompted, at least in part, by the Akron School District’s decision not to reopen to in-person learning until March 15, over two weeks after the target date set by the governor for the state’s school to return to in-person learning.
“In Akron, school staff has been vaccinated in the Akron School District,” DeWine said. “But now we're told they won't go back until March 15. That is not acceptable.”
Akron Public Schools responded to the Governor's comments with the following statement from Superintendent David W. James, Ed.D.:
Safety has been and always will be our priority for students, employees, and community at large. Akron Public Schools has had better than 2,000 students back in our school buildings since February 1. That is a hybrid model that commenced one month ahead of the governor's schedule. It is our belief that this is in compliance with the commitment made.
We completely understand the governor's frustration over this situation. This has always been about the kids, as he said. Akron Public Schools has been working for nearly a year with the sole mission of returning children to school AND keeping them and our teachers safe. We have worked closely, and quite well with state and local public health experts.
DeWine said that he reached out to the Cleveland Metropolitan School District. He said the district told him it would do everything possible to return to in-person learning by March 1 to continue to receive vaccines for staff.
“In Cleveland, we are in the midst of vaccinating teachers and personnel in Cleveland City Schools,” DeWine said. “I asked if we should stop the vaccinations. Their CEO has made a commitment to me to do everything in his power to get the kids back in class March 1.”
Cleveland Schools CEO Eric Gordon responded with the following statement:
As Governor Mike DeWine shared at a press conference, I spoke directly with the Governor about our continued efforts to open CMSD as quickly as we are able to do so, knowing his expectation for all Ohio districts is March 1.
At last Tuesday’s Board meeting, I announced my intention to update our students, parents and caregivers, educators, and the entire CMSD community of our reopening plan on next Friday, Feb. 19, and I still plan to do so.
DeWine said every Ohio district but one signed a commitment to resume in-person learning by March 1, and he expects districts to fulfill that commitment.
“It's important for our kids to get back in the classroom when their parents are ready to send them back,” DeWine said. “Kids are falling behind. There are social and mental health consequences. That's why we prioritized vaccines for schools. Otherwise, they'd go to a more vulnerable group.”
DeWine said that if a district has begun vaccinating staff, he would not cut off the second dose of vaccine, even if the school did not meet the March 1 deadline, as that would be unethical.
The announcement comes hours after the CDC updated guidance for schools, which states that it is possible to safely return to school without vaccinations, provided the school staff and students take steps to mitigate the spread of COVID-19: universal mask wearing, social distancing, hand-washing and respiratory etiquette, clean and maintaining facilities, and contact tracing.
DeWine bristled at the notion that the March 1 target date was a concrete deadline, but also reiterated that updated CDC guidance and the state’s own testing, that have shown students can safely return to in-person education with proper social distancing and universal mask use. DeWine also said the purpose of Friday's statements was to not-so-subtly remind school districts of the commitments they previously made.
"In the case of two of the schools I talked about, Walnut Hills and Akron, they’ve already been vaccinated. We’d have to see what else we could do,” Gov. DeWine said. “Frankly, the purpose of this is not to threaten anybody or punish anybody. The purpose is to get our kids back to school. Let’s get this worked out. Let’s figure this out."
House Minority Leader Emilia Strong Sykes (D-Akron) and Senator Vernon Sykes (D-Akron) issued the following joint statement regarding DeWine's press conference Friday:
In a week where the DeWine administration failed to identify 4,000 COVID related deaths, the Governor takes to the news on a Friday evening to chastise school districts who have suffered under the continued mismanagement of the vaccination distribution process. We all want our kids back in school and our economy booming but we’ve been hindered by the failed leadership from the top that refuses to acknowledge where the real issues are, and instead places the blame on teachers, administrators and parents.
Watch DeWine's full news conference below:
K-12 school personnel became eligible for the vaccine as part of the state’s Phase 1B plan beginning on Feb. 1, with the goal of getting as many Ohio students back to in-person learning as possible by March 1.