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Ohio school reopening plan draws criticism

By THE CENTER SQUARE

COLUMBUS — Schools in Ohio are planning to employ a mix of in-person, at-home and hybrid options when schools reopen, according to the Ohio Department of Education.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the state has left the decision on how to start the new school year to individual school districts.

A total of 325 public school districts with about 590,000 students plan to return to school full-time, according to state numbers. Meanwhile, 55 districts with approximately 398,000 students will begin the school year remotely, while 154 districts with roughly 380,000 students will have a hybrid of online and in-person learning.

State officials did not have information on 78 other public school districts.

“I have every confidence that Ohio’s schools will do everything they can to keep children safe, but any spread happening in the broader community will, without a doubt, be reflected in Ohio’s classrooms,” Gov. Mike DeWine said in a statement. “If we want our kids to go to school in person, to play sports, to be in extracurricular activities – it’s up to all of us to cut down the spread in our communities.”

As of Tuesday, Ohio reported 102,826 “confirmed and probable” cases of COVID-19 and 3,708 “confirmed and probable” deaths from the virus, which originated in China.

The governor stressed the importance of masks, social distancing and proper hygiene as the start of school approaches. However, state Rep. Phil Robinson, D-Solon, the ranking member on the House Primary and Secondary Education Committee, criticized DeWine for the lack of a statewide school reopening plan.

“Instead of rolling out a statewide, back-to-school plan, the Governor continues to shift the difficult decisions to the school districts who then shift the decisions to the parents to somehow choose between their child’s health, their own health and their employment,” Robinson said in a statement.

“What is actually happening as a result of no statewide intervention is we are deepening the economic divides in our society, perpetuating a system of haves and have nots,” Robinson added. “Those who have the means to do remote learning and keep their children healthy, can. Those working parents who rely on in-person instruction so they can hold down a job, cannot.”

DeWine, a Republican, is also facing pressure from members of his own party.

State Rep. Jena Powell, R-Arcanum, called on state lawmakers to meet to, in part, eliminate the statewide mask mandate DeWine previously implemented and to “safely” reopen schools this fall.

“Ohioans need to have complete confidence that the leadership of Ohio is putting the needs of Ohioans first during this time of economic and health crises,” Powell said in a letter to DeWine and House Speaker Bob Cupp, R-Lima, and posted to Facebook.