(The Center Square) — As Ohio public schools draw close to its second quarter and more and more boards of education weigh decisions to adjust the way students attend during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, teachers unions want a bigger voice.
In Central Ohio, one of the state’s 30 largest school districts faces a teacher strike that began Tuesday, the same day some students were to resume in-person classes for the first time this year.
The Gahanna-Jefferson School District is the state’s 28th largest, out of 608 districts, with 7,726 students. In the middle of contract talks, the Gahanna Jefferson Education Association claimed the district’s plans to reopen weren’t safe or equitable.
“The district talks about ‘protecting existing schedules,’ but at what cost? The teachers are concerned with protecting our students,” GJEA spokesperson Betsy Baker said in an Oct. 1 news release.
Districts, both public and private, across the state have taken individual approaches to reopening. Many students are back in class full time, while other districts opened the year with a hybrid model that sent students back for two days and continued online learning for three during a week.
Others have spent the first quarter completely online, a tactic that proponents of in-school learning says sets students back, particularly in low-income households.
The union also filed an unfair labor practice charge with the State Employment Relations Board, and teachers were on picket lines Tuesday morning, while the district continued online classes with substitutes, non-striking district teachers and teachers from the Educational Service Center of Central Ohio.
At the same time, the state’s 13th largest school system in Pickerington faces growing concern from its teachers’ union as it prepares to return students to the classroom four days a week.
Those teachers say the district plans to use a specific medical grade mask to eliminate the need for contract tracing for teachers and staff. That, the union said in a Tuesday news release, goes against CDC guidelines.
Pickerington schools currently operate under a hybrid return-to-class model.
“The risk of exposure in all of our schools is substantial, especially since it will be impossible to maintain any of the 3-6 foot social distancing requirements when all students are back in the classrooms together,” Pickerington Education Association President Heather Tinsley said. “We insist on transparency and prompt communication from the board regarding the guidance they are using and the data they are considering that makes them believe PLSD is in a position to fully reopen our school buildings.”
Also on Monday, faculty at Youngstown State University went on strike over contract negotiations.
An Ohio native, J.D. Davidson is a veteran journalist with more than 30 years of experience in newspapers in Ohio, Georgia, Alabama and Texas. He has served as a reporter, editor, managing editor and publisher.