Ohio teachers and students face another difficult school year, as the COVID-19 Delta variant ravages communities, especially among those who are unvaccinated.
Though the State of Ohio recommends school districts follow the guidelines set forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that encourage masking and social distancing, it has left those policies largely up to individual school districts.
When it comes to student health and safety, policies vary between districts. Some maintain mask mandates, some mandate teacher vaccination and other districts will not require students to wear masks.
Melissa Cropper, President of the Ohio Federation of Teachers (OFT), joined the America’s Work Force Union Podcast to discuss how schools will approach mask and vaccine mandates, and what the OFT is doing to prioritize the health and safety of students, teachers and communities.
Local school districts decide safety protocols
While there are no statewide mandates when it comes to mask wearing and vaccination in Ohio schools, masking and vaccines are strongly recommended, Cropper said. The OFT encourages anyone who is eligible to get vaccinated. They also encourage social distancing and for everyone to wear masks in schools, including the vaccinated.
Some school districts like Cleveland, Cincinnati and Toledo have implemented complete mask mandates, but there is no statewide policy, said Cropper.
The majority of teachers in Ohio school districts have been vaccinated, though the numbers vary depending on the community, she said. The OFT is thankful teachers were prioritized for vaccinations early last spring.
Fortunately, school districts have received federal safety funds and many districts used these funds to upgrade their ventilation systems, purchase a stockpile of cleaning supplies and more.
Though the Delta variant is a new strain of virus that is more contagious and a greater health risk than other strains, Cropper is confident schools can safely do in-person instruction — if masks are worn, vaccinations are prolific and students and staff can socially distance.
How the OFT is approaching vaccine mandates
The OFT is doing what it can to make schools as safe as possible, Cropper said. If a school district does mandate vaccinations among its staff, the OFT will work with the district on implementation to make sure staff members are treated fairly. They will continue to protect those who cannot get vaccinated due to medical or religious reasons.
The OFT is doing all it can to make accurate information about the vaccines available in an effort to encourage more vaccinations.
Cropper stated that unvaccinated teachers should wear masks and undergo COVID-19 testing on a regular basis. Schools and staff must do everything they can to keep students and communities safe.