No clear answers on reopening Ohio’s schools

By Todd DeFeo - The Center Square

COLUMBUS — Discussions about reopening Ohio’s schools amid the COVID-19 pandemic seem to raise more questions than answers. Even as Buckeye State businesses begin to reopen, the plan for schools remains fluid.

Officials are considering several possibilities for returning to classrooms this fall. They include returning to regular everyday classes, continued learning from home and bringing in students in shifts throughout the week.

“Schools will and should reopen when public health standards can be met,” Ohio Education Association (OEA) President Scott DiMauro said in a statement. “When that happens, we look forward to welcoming our students to a more equitable, safe and dynamic learning environment that meets the promise of public education that all students, parents, families and educators deserve.”

Last week, members of the Senate Finance Committee facilitated a discussion about the next steps for the potential reopening of schools.

“I think this discussion sort of highlights the extreme difficulty of addressing this particular topic,” state Sen. Peggy Lehner, R-Kettering, said at one point during the hearing. “I think there’s a reason why the governor has not turned to, ‘well, here’s our solution for schools and child care.’ These are some of our toughest issues.”

Kevin Miller, director of governmental relations for the Buckeye Association of School Administrators (BASA), suggested that any decisions should allow school districts some leeway.

“The important thing is that no matter what plan anyone develops, there has to be flexibility and trust in our local school districts and what decisions they make,” Miller told lawmakers.

“If we’re looking to develop … this perfect scenario, there is none, and then I think you have to ask your question … how long are we going to keep this up?” Miller said. “If we’re waiting on a vaccine which is now maybe 18 months-plus away, is what we’re going to do this fall reflective of what we’re going to be doing for the next two years before we return to some type of normalcy?”

One lingering question centers on budgets and potential cuts and revenue losses at the local level.

On that topic, lawmakers could soon consider Senate Bill 313, sponsored by state Sen. Terry Johnson, R-McDermott. The measure, which has been referred to the Senate Finance Committee, would require the Department of Education to make payments in the 2020 or 2021 fiscal years to school districts that see a drop in the taxable value of property in their communities.

By Todd DeFeo

The Center Square