The Cincinnati Federation of Teachers is suing to stop the resumption of in-person learning at the Cincinnati Public Schools.
The union for CPS teachers wants to delay the start of in-person classes until an arbitrator can rule on whether it would be a health threat to teachers, other staffers, students and their families. It filed a complaint and a motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction in the Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas on Friday.
The union said it will ask a judge on Monday, Feb. 1, for a hearing on its request for a temporary restraining order halting plans for a mix of in-person and online education.
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That would be a short-term ruling that would allow the matter to be more thoroughly reviewed later as the lawsuit proceeds.
The Cincinnati Public Schools had planned to begin phasing in blended learning over the next four weeks, starting Tuesday, Feb. 2.
Lawsuit an ‘unfortunate last resort’
“The lawsuit was an unfortunate last resort for our union,” teachers’ union President Julie Sellers said in a news release issued Saturday.
“We are disappointed the Board of Education and Superintendent (Laura) Mitchell refused to seek input from teachers about when and how to reopen schools safely, even as Hamilton County remains rated ‘red’ on Ohio’s COVID rating. That indicates our community remains in ‘public emergency’ status with ‘very high exposure and spread’ of COVID.”
The lawsuit follows a grievance filed by the teachers’ union, which triggered use of an arbitrator.
The union said in its release that the Cincinnati Public Schools Board of Education has abandoned infection-rate metrics for reopening schools that it adopted in December 2020.
“We have made a public records request for text messages and emails that might explain the basis for the abrupt change of course by the board as COVID continues to threaten our community,” Sellers said.
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“Unfortunately, (Cincinnati Public Schools) has stonewalled, forcing us to ask the court and an arbitrator to intervene and protect our members, students and all of our families.”
Nearly 80% of Cincinnati Public Schools teachers surveyed said they would be uncomfortable returning to crowded schools and classrooms for in-person instruction until vaccines are distributed and can take full effect, the release said.
‘Transmission of COVID-19 is low in schools’
The Cincinnati Public Schools said in a statement Saturday that the district intends to proceed with its plan to resume blended instruction next week.
“(Cincinnati Public Schools) is aware of concerns that have been expressed by some staff about returning to school buildings and has been actively engaged in accommodating employees who are unable or unwilling to continue teaching or performing their jobs when students return,” the statement said.
“(But) data and experience have shown that transmission of COVID-19 is low in schools that implement rigorous health protocols.”
The statement said the school district has implemented COVID-19 guidelines from the state of Ohio and the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, assigned nurses to each school and initiated onsite COVID-19 testing for students through a partnership with Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.
The district soon will offer staff COVID-19 rapid tests and will continually monitor staffing levels and health data, the statement said.
District employees began getting vaccinated on Thursday, the statement said, and by day’s end on Saturday, more than a third of the district’s teachers, instructional assistants, custodial staff and other employees will have received their first dose.
Families who want their children to continue with distance learning may enroll them in the district’s Cincinnati Digital Academy.