State’s top Republicans (sort of) disagree about vaccinating teachers

By: - February 10, 2021 12:35 am

Photo by Parker Michels-Boyce for States Newsroom.

Ohio’s two top Republicans seem to have different ideas about when students should return to school — although one of them wouldn’t acknowledge it on Tuesday.

Last week, Sen. Rob Portman appeared to signal a rare public disagreement with Gov. Mike DeWine, who for a year has been taking fire from some on his right flank over restrictions intended to fight the spread of coronavirus.

On Wednesday, Portman tweeted out a CNBC article about how Rochelle Walensky, the director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, had said students could safely return to school even without teachers being vaccinated for coronavirus.

“The science is clear: it’s time to safely reopen our schools and get our kids back in the classroom,” Portman wrote in his retweet. 

A day after Walensky made her comments, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki walked them back, saying that Walenski was speaking in her “personal capacity.”

Portman’s office couldn’t immediately be reached for comment Tuesday, but his tweet last week was pretty starkly at odds with DeWine’s policy. 

As Ohioans 65 and older line up for coveted doses of the limited vaccine, DeWine is rushing it to all adults who work in Ohio schools in an attempt to restart in-person instruction by March 1.

Again on Tuesday, DeWine said he felt obligated to get kids back in school because the data show that some of them are losing ground. 

Paolo DeMaria, the state’s superintendent of public instruction, said the youngest students — especially those from low-income and minority families — are losing the most. For example, 8% of kindergarten students have been deemed to be not on track in their academic development, he said. 

“I appreciate that you prioritized teachers for a vaccine because it’s really going to make a difference,” DeMaria told DeWine during a press conference.

When asked about Portman’s tweet, DeWine seemed to ignore that it was in reference to an article saying that vaccinating teachers is unnecessary.

“I agree with what he tweeted out,” DeWine said. “That’s correct. We can get (kids and teachers) back” in school.

Then the governor explained why vaccinating adults in schools was important, along with masking, social distancing and other measures.

“One of the main reasons we’re vaccinating teachers is because of a concern expressed by teachers and others who work in the school buildings was that they were going to be safe,” he said,

Since the beginning of the pandemic, which so far has killed 11,793 Ohioans, DeWine has repeatedly been in conflict with some of his fellow elected Republicans. 

Legislative Republicans passed a bill that would have gutted the governor’s power to issue health orders in response to the pandemic. DeWine vetoed the bill, but a new version has been filed in the new legislative session.

One such order that remains in place seems likely to be rescinded on Thursday. That’s when DeWine will probably suspend an 11 p.m. – 5 a.m. statewide curfew. 

There were 1,974 people hospitalized with covid on Monday, continuing a string of days below 2,500 hospitalizations. If that string continues through Thursday, DeWine has said, the curfew will be lifted.

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Marty Schladen
Marty Schladen

Marty Schladen has been a reporter for decades, working in Indiana, Texas and other places before returning to his native Ohio to work at The Columbus Dispatch in 2017. He's won state and national journalism awards for investigations into utility regulation, public corruption, the environment, prescription drug spending and other matters.

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