DeWine Outlines Guidance for Schools to Reopen in Fall

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Gov. Mike DeWine says schools should reopen in the fall and to that end, he outlined guidance compiled after consultations with educators and medical professionals.

“There is a strong consensus among teachers, school principals, parents and the public around Ohio that our kids need to get back into the school building,” he said Thursday.

School policies need to be guided by supporting not only the overall health and well being of children but also their families and communities, said Dr. Chris Peltier, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics Ohio Chapter.

A working group for the national AAP, which produced a document similar to the one DeWine unveiled, concluded that there is “more harm to not being physically located in schools” than in being in them. Children, who makeup 24% of the population, represent only 2% of COVID-19 cases, he said.

“Less risk does not mean no risk,” he continued. “We can never completely eliminate risks, but we do know that kids who are in school don’t just learn math and science. They learn social and emotional skills. They have access to healthy meals and exercise.”

In addition, they have access to mental health support, he said. Several colleagues report a marked increase in patients presenting with concerns for anxiety and depression during quarantine, which when severe can lead to teen suicide.

Ohio’s guidelines, which are contained in an online guide for schools, call for:

  • Vigilantly assessing symptoms and advising students, teachers or staff with a temperature over 100 degrees or symptoms to stay home or sending them home if those develop at school;
  • Washing and sanitizing hands to prevent spread and making sure hand sanitizer is available;
  • Thoroughly sanitizing and cleaning schools;
  • Practicing social distancing, which DeWine conceded will look different in each school;
  • Developing a face covering policy.

Over the past few weeks DeWine said he and Lt. Gov. Jon Husted talked to dozens of teachers, superintendents and medical experts to craft the guidance, which districts will be able to adjust to what works best for them to protect staff and students from the spread of COVID-19.

Education leaders asked for flexibility and the guidelines will help schools design a plan that works best for them, Husted said.

“The education landscape is diverse,” he said. “They all have unique settings and unique challenges when it comes to creating a safe environment.”

The governor acknowledged that schools will have an “inherent problem” with regard to buses. To address the “many unforeseen and some very much foreseen” expenses school districts are going to have to absorb, he said he is working with the General Assembly to take money from Ohio’s share of funding through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or Cares Act, to provide assistance to schools.

The funds won’t be enough to take care of all the additional expenses, he conceded but “I do want to make sure schools know that this money is in fact coming.”

The plans for Youngstown City Schools is to be online in the fall, but that could change if circumstances change, district spokeswoman Denise Dick said. The district is preparing for all thee possibilities: all on line, in building or a hybrid of the two options.

“The governor is allowing school districts to move forward in the manner we believe is best for our scholars, families and staff. CEO Justin Jennings is concerned about everyone’s health and the possibility of spreading the illness if a vaccine isn’t available,” she said. “We’re securing devices for our scholars and working with some nonprofit organizations to ensure all of scholars’ homes have internet access.”

Thursday’s news conference came a day after the Dayton City Commission voted to mandate the wearing of masks in public. Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley decided Wednesday to require the use of masks in public places, the same day Ohio reported the 1,000-plus increase in cases of COVID-19, the disease spread by the coronavirus. It is the highest increase in cases since the virus peaked in the state around mid-April.

Shortly before DeWine’s news conference, Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther said he would sign an executive order mandating face coverings be used. That order will take effect Friday.

The city of Bexley also mandated face coverings this week. Pennsylvania and Texas mandated their use as well.

In April, DeWine imposed – then swiftly lifted, following an outcry from critics – a mandate that required customers at retail and service businesses to wear masks. He commended the three Ohio mayors for their action. Though he did not commit to taking similar action, he did not rule it out.

“We will continue to look at what needs to be done and taking appropriate action if in fact it’s needed,” he said.

Copyright 2020 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.