From the July 13, 2020 issue of the Briefcase

State issues guidance on safely reopening school buildings

Facing endless questions from parents, students and school leaders about the future of education in Ohio, Gov. Mike DeWine responded on July 3. In his now-ubiquitous 2 p.m. daily press conference, DeWine answered with guidance and directives about what the state will require and advise for K-12 public and private schools in the 2020-21 school year. DeWine also addressed the health challenges facing schools and the state’s role in preventing the spread of the coronavirus and debuted his administration’s newly published document titled COVID-19 Health and Prevention Guidance for Ohio K-12 Schools.

The guidance is intended to serve as a framework to reopen school buildings while also helping students and staff reduce the risk of COVID-19 exposure and prevent its spread in their communities. The guidance and best practices focus on the following areas:

  • assessing symptoms;
  • increasing hand-cleaning efforts;
  • increasing sanitation efforts;
  • practicing social distancing;
  • adopting a face-covering policy.

To assess symptoms, DeWine recommends school employees take temperatures of students and staff as they enter buildings. An additional recommendation is for students, staff and volunteers to conduct daily health checks prior to going to school, including temperature checks and assessing symptoms. The recommendations call for anyone with symptoms or a temperature above 100 degrees to stay home.

To address hand-cleaning efforts, DeWine recommends students, staff and volunteers practice frequent hand-washing for at least 20 seconds when hands are dirty, before and after eating and after using the restroom. Additionally, schools are required to provide opportunities throughout the day for hand-washing and must provide hand sanitizer in high-traffic areas and instruct students and staff to use the sanitizer.

To address sanitation efforts, DeWine is requiring schools to clean surfaces frequently, paying close attention to high-touch areas and shared materials, and to make sanitation wipes or disinfectants available in each room and common space.

To address social distancing, DeWine recommends that school staff should try, when possible, to maintain a six-foot distance among students, staff and volunteers in all school environments, including classrooms, hallways, restrooms, cafeterias, playgrounds and drop-off and pickup locations. The guidance also acknowledges the unique challenges associated with pupil transportation. DeWine recommends social distancing and face coverings for students on school buses but implores officials to endeavor to do the best they can.

To address face coverings, DeWine requires school staff and volunteers to wear face coverings, unless it is unsafe to do so or would significantly interfere with the learning process. Specific exemptions to this requirement include:

  • when wearing coverings in a school setting is prohibited by law or regulation, is in violation of documented industry standards, is inadvisable for health reasons or is in violation of a school’s documented safety policies;
  • when staff members work alone in an assigned work area;
  • when there is a functional or practical reason to not to wear a facial covering in the workplace.

DeWine stopped short of requiring students to wear face coverings. However, he is requiring all schools to establish a face mask policy. To that end, the governor strongly recommends that students in third grade and higher wear a face covering unless they are unable to do so for a health or developmental reason.

To supplement DeWine’s health guidance, the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) issued its Reset and Restart Planning Guide for Ohio Schools and Districts. The document is intended to help schools and their partners understand guidelines and considerations for reopening school buildings amid the pandemic in a way that protects the health and safety of vulnerable members of school communities.

ODE’s stated intent is that the guide will spur local-level, partnership-based discussions and decision-making that will result in locally developed plans. The guide is broken into the following three segments:

  • Health and safety guidelines, which refer to the guidance issued by DeWine.
  • Local planning considerations, which include guidelines to help schools and their partners reopen in the most effective way possible. This portion also outlines the educational aspects schools should consider, paying attention to a student’s educational experience and learning, educator readiness and training, social-emotional health and operational considerations.
  • Roles for associations, educational organizations and other state and community partners, which focus on leveraging the support of partners to implement the health and safety guidelines and return-to-school considerations for local planning.

Posted by Will Schwartz on 7/7/2020.
Editor’s note: Information in this article was current as of July 6, 2020.

From the June 22, 2020 issue of the Briefcase

Lawmakers pass more legislation to provide schools relief

The Ohio General Assembly on June 11 sent Gov. Mike DeWine a second round of education legislation intended to help school districts prepare for the 2020-21 school year, provide relief and flexibility from state mandates and cope with the impact of the coronavirus.

After lawmakers passed House Bill (HB) 197 in late March to address issues related to the extended school building closure of the 2019-20 school year, education leaders quickly voiced the need to extend that bill’s provisions into the following school year. As a result, lawmakers spent several weeks crafting amendments and bills.

On June 2, Sen. Matt Huffman (R-Lima) introduced Senate Bill (SB) 319, which contained a compilation of education measures designed to relieve challenges facing districts in the upcoming school year. At that time, it served as the only comprehensive piece of legislation to address the 2020-21 school year.

Since the bill had just been introduced, it faced a longer road and a limited amount of time to navigate the legislature before a planned summer recess that was set to begin in mid-June. Therefore, the Senate Education Committee acted quickly on June 10 to incorporate a majority of SB 319’s provisions into HB 164, a bill that had been pending in that committee for months and had already cleared the House of Representatives. Sponsored by Rep. Timothy E. Ginter (R-Salem), HB 164 originally dealt with student religious expression in schools, but now represented a lighthouse in a sea of fog for which school leaders had long been pleading.

On the same day that the Senate committee substantially amended and passed HB 164, the full Senate voted 32-0 to approve the bill, sending it back to the House. The next day — June 11 — the House concurred with the Senate’s changes to its bill by a vote of 87-3.

In addition to the flexibility measures, the bill contains three increases in state funding payments to certain school districts.

The first payment pertains to school districts with power plants in their territory that recently suffered significant devaluations in their public utility tangible personal property (PUTPP) over a short period of time. Seven traditional school districts and one joint vocational school district are estimated to benefit in fiscal year (FY) 2020 from this provision, which uses roughly $3.5 million from the unexpended balance of a preexisting budget earmark.

The second payment pertains to districts that experienced state aid deductions due to positive spikes in their PUTPP values. Three districts are estimated to benefit in FY 2020 from this provision, which uses $545,265 from the same earmark.

The third funding change contains a direct appropriation of state funds to offset a portion of the $300 million in foundation funding reductions DeWine imposed on May 5. An appropriation of $24 million in FY 2020 will provide an additional payment to an estimated 70 school districts. Payments range from a maximum of $2 million to a minimum of $182, and the average payment would be about $333,500. Payments are allocated to districts so that, after factoring in emergency federal assistance payments, no district would experience a net reduction of more than 6% of its original FY 2020 foundation amount. Those federal payments come from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund as part of the larger Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

Other key provisions of HB 164 include:

  • permitting high school students to use final course grades in lieu of the corresponding end-of-course exam if that exam was not administered in the 2019-20 school year;
  • modifying teacher and principal evaluations for the 2019-20 and 2020-21 school years by prohibiting the use of value-added measures, among other changes;
  • permitting districts that do not currently operate a blended learning model to adopt a “remote learning plan” by July 31, 2020, that will constitute compliance with minimum hours requirements, provided specified items in the bill are included in a district’s plan;
  • allowing, for the 2020-21 school year, licensed teachers to be employed or reassigned to teach in a subject area or grade level for which they are not licensed, provided certain conditions are met;
  • extending to Nov. 30, 2022, the moratorium on the requirement for school districts to install storm shelters;
  • providing local flexibility in determining promotion to fourth grade for the 2020-21 school year;
  • maintaining the third-grade reading guarantee cut score for the 2020-21 school year at the level set for the 2019-20 school year;
  • removing required qualifications for teachers who are assigned to provide intense remediation reading assistance in the 2020-21 school year;
  • removing the requirement to implement reading and improvement monitoring plans for the 2020-21 school year based on test results from the 2019-20 school year;
  • grandfathering current preschool special education teachers who do not qualify under the new special education preschool administrative rules;
  • permitting certain state-licensed individuals to provide services electronically to students with disabilities through the 2020-21 school year;
  • requiring the Ohio Department of Education to develop an online training program to satisfy the classroom portion of pre-service and annual in-service training for school bus driver certification for the 2020-21 school year only.

The bill’s funding measures and temporary relief provisions take effect immediately upon the governor’s signature.

DeWine is expected to sign the bill into law, but has a new tool afforded to him that does not typically accompany bill signings: the line-item veto. Since HB 164 appropriates state funds, the Ohio Constitution grants him the authority to line-item veto any provision of the bill, not just the portion that expends funds. Therefore, the final impact of the bill’s provisions will not be fully known until DeWine places the cap back onto his pen.

Editor’s note: Information in this article was current as of June 12, 2020.