CLEVELAND HEIGHTS, OH — After the Cleveland Heights Teachers Union lambasted the district for planning a March 1 return to in-person education, Superintendent Elizabeth Kirby has responded.
In an open letter to the union, Kirby said returning to classrooms by March 1 will get staffers vaccinated quicker than remaining remote through the end of the school year. She also said many students are suffering in the remote-only model.
"While teachers have worked hard to implement remote learning this year, as I review the attendance, assessment and grade data for the first semester, it is clear that remote learning is simply not meeting the needs of many of our students," Kirby wrote.
The superintendent said data indicates a "considerable number of our students" have not adjusted well to remote-only education.
"I do not feel that this is an indicator of teacher performance; it is an indicator of a need for educators to be present with their students in their schools," she said, before adding that many parents have said their children are struggling emotionally as well as academically in the COVID-19 era.
Gov. Mike DeWine agreed to release the COVID-19 vaccines to school teachers and staff only if their districts agreed to reopen, in some form, by March 1. The Heights Schools made the decision to end remote-only education to get staffers the vaccine. But the Cleveland Heights Teachers Union ripped the decision.
"Teachers want to be back with their students. However, we do not want to be back in an environment that we know is unsafe. Unless the vaccine is readily available and infection numbers are trending sharply downwards we should not even discuss returning in person," Teachers Union President Karen Rego told Patch.
DeWine has said the state is dealing with a shortage of needed COVID-19 vaccines. To vaccinate teachers and staff, the state will need to divert some doses away from elderly Ohioans and Ohioans with long-term medical conditions.
Despite many districts signing the state agreement to return on March 1, DeWine said Tuesday that teachers may only have received their first vaccine shot before the end of February. He blamed the meager vaccine allotment arriving in Ohio each week.
While nearly every state in the U.S. continues to face vaccine shortages, Kirby argued this was still the fastest way to get staffers vaccinated.
"I would not ask our teachers and staff to take this step if I thought it were unsafe," she said.
Kirby's full letter, including details of the district's COVID-19 mitigation strategy, can be found on the Cleveland Heights-University Heights Schools' website.