By Susan Tebben and the Ohio Capital Journal

The state’s largest public schools union is asking that all public schools suspend in-person instruction until mid-January “in light of the alarming explosion in community spread of the coronavirus in recent weeks.”

The Ohio Education Association said in a statement that they plan on calling “state leaders and school districts” to discuss a new plan they have related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

As part of the plan, the OEA wants all districts to go back to remote learning until Jan. 11, including a 14-day quarantine after Christmas.

As part of the plan, the OEA wants all districts to go back to remote learning until Jan. 11, including a 14-day quarantine after Christmas.

“This reset period, whether schools delay instruction educate student in a fully remote model, is critical not only to ensure student and staff safety, but also to give schools time to refine their delivery model and make other necessary adjustments to execute their instructional plan so students can receive the best education possible in the face of all the challenges the pandemic presents,” said Scott DiMauro, president of the OEA, in the statement.

Currently, student cases in schools have surpassed 20,000 in the state, according to data from the Ohio Department of Health. As of Monday, children accounted for 37,623 reported COVID-19 cases in the state, or 8% of all cases. A total of 434 children have been hospitalized with COVID-19 and three children have died, according to state data.

Scott DiMauro, president of the OEA

Franklin County reported the most cases in children, with 5,432, followed by Hamilton (3,256), Cuyahoga (3,210) and Montgomery (2,231).

Franklin County reported the most cases in children followed by Hamilton County

The OEA board of directors adopted the recommended steps on Dec. 3. Along with the pushing districts to go online, the OEA’s plan would require approval of their “instructional model and staff safety plan” from the local board of health before reopening.

“Schools that are unable to obtain sign-off must be required to operate fully remote and shall not hold extracurricular activities,” according to the plan.

The Ohio Department of Education said the decision to hold classes in person or remotely “remains a local decision.”

The ODE recently released “considerations for schools and districts in purple counties” on the state’s Public Health Advisory System. The map showed a total of seven purple counties as of Monday.

“Ohio’s education system must continue to be flexible and responsive to ensure the health and safety of all students, teachers and employees,” the department said in it’s directive for districts in purple counties.

The other two steps in the OEA recommendations are for state and local governments rather than school districts.

The plan calls on governmental bodies to “do whatever is necessary to slow the spread of this disease and diminish its impact on the delivery of instruction.”

“OEA fully supports maintaining the authority of the Governor and Ohio Department of Health to implement and enforce efforts to contain community spread, including but not limited to expanding contact tracing and testing programs and strict enforcement mask orders, limits on large gatherings, and closure of non-essential businesses and services that are known to increase the risk of community spread of the virus,” the OEA board of directors stated.

The union also pushed for the funding of a new federal coronavirus relief bill, something Gov. Mike DeWine also did at a Monday press conference.

Susan Tebben is an award-winning journalist with a decade of experience covering Ohio news, including courts and crime, Appalachian social issues, government, education, diversity and culture. She has worked for The Newark Advocate, The Glasgow Daily Times, The Athens Messenger, and WOUB Public Media. She has also had work featured on National Public Radio.

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