COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine on Friday publicly rebuked school officials in Akron and Cincinnati for backtracking on commitments they'd made to offer in-person learning by March 1, calling that unacceptable after employees in those districts were among those prioritized for coronavirus vaccines because of their reopening promises.
The Republican governor was upset to learn that Akron students weren't slated to return until mid-March, and that Cincinnati's Walnut Hills High School was sticking with remote learning over concerns about crowding and the ability to keep students socially distanced.
The governor said he isn't telling schools or parents what to do, but is warning schools that made reopening commitments in exchange for getting prioritized vaccines to live up to their word.
"These vaccinations, if they're not going to get kids back in school when they need to be back in school, we need to take them and vaccinate other people — vaccinate people who are older," DeWine said.
He said he also asked Cleveland schools CEO Eric Gordon whether the teacher vaccinations underway there should be halted because of uncertainty about whether the district would have kids back in classrooms by March 1. DeWine said Gordon assured him he's doing everything possible to meet that goal.
The governor emphasized the importance of returning kids to school, pointing to the academic, social and mental health consequences of extended time out of school, and to updated guidance Friday from the nation's top public health agency that said classes can safely resume with masking and other precautions being followed, regardless of whether teachers are yet vaccinated.
More than 85% of school districts already are offering at least some in-person classes at this point, DeWine said.
He said he wasn't trying to punish anyone, and that the state wouldn't withhold the second dose of the vaccine from Akron and Cincinnati educators who already got their first dose, but that the state could "see what else we could do."
To get prioritized vaccine access, districts had been required to agree that their schools would be using in-person or hybrid learning models by March 1. Only one of Ohio's 600-plus districts — the small Jefferson Local Township Schools district just outside of Dayton — didn't sign on, deciding instead to remain in remote learning for the rest of this school year.