DeWine lays out K-12 reopening plans

Gov. Mike DeWine is seen during a COVID-19 press conference. (Screenshot courtesy OhioChannel)

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine laid out reopening guidelines for state K-12 schools on Thursday, including a mask requirement for teachers, but no such mandate for students.

DeWine said it is “the state’s strong recommendation” that children from the third grade on wear face masks, but maintained that local control for school districts will be in place as reopenings begin. 

“A great deal of flexibility is allowed, as it should be,” DeWine said in his Thursday COVID-19 press conference.

The governor announced that the Ohio Department of Education published a 36-page planning guide that includes recommendations on everything from testing to field trips and recess precautions.

The guidance is specifically noted as “not mandatory” in the documents and emphasized the need for schools and districts to develop and implement their own protocols, while using the information provided by local and state health departments.

“Planning teams should include school leaders, local health department officials, local school board members, educators, education support professionals, school health professionals, parents, students, community partners and local business leaders,” the planning documents stated.

In developing coronavirus related-protocols, DeWine said before anyone enters a school facility, parents and school officials should “vigilantly assess” symptoms, and take the temperatures of everyone coming into the schools. In the guidance, outside individuals such as delivery personnel, student teachers and faculty of student teachers are all treated the same as official school personnel. 

The planning guide said flare-ups are considered “expected” by state officials, and warns that school buildings may need to close in the event of said flare-up.

Schools were told to work with local health departments to develop a testing strategy, thoroughly clean and sanitize schools, and teach and practice social distancing and hand-washing.

Social distancing in places like school buses will be more difficult, and DeWine said as much distance as is possible will benefit students and staff.

“(Specific measurements of distance are) all relative and it’s somewhat arbitrary,” DeWine said. “But the more distance you can have the better.”

Face coverings are required by staff unless it is unsafe or if doing so “could interfere with the learning process,” DeWine said on Thursday.

Ohio Federation of Teachers Executive Director Melissa Cropper appreciated the moves by the governor, but said the OFT worries about the financial demands of the new protocols.

“We are concerned that local governments and school districts will have to make decisions about the governor’s recommendations at a time when they are anticipating budget crunches and beginning to make spending cuts,” Cropper said in a statement.

DeWine said it “is not right for me or (other departments) to micromanage” school buildings or districts.

The governor did say he plans to meet with House Speaker Larry Householder, Senate President Larry Obhof, and minority leaders to discuss extra funding, along with the use of CARES Act funding.

Cropper said schools would benefit from HEROES Act funding as well, a bank of about $2 billion in monies for K-12 education, but the act is still awaiting U.S. Senate consideration after passing the House.

The guidance comes as the state faces continual growth in coronavirus cases, and data show that cases are passed through the individuals within the area. DeWine noted that 80% of confirmed cases in Montgomery County have been linked to community spread.