COLUMBUS, Ohio (WSYX/WTTE) — Ohio educators are calling the head of the U.S. Department of Education reckless as she’s pushing for all schools to open within the next few weeks.
"What we’re saying is that kids need to be back in school,” Betsy DeVos said on CNN Sunday when asked if she was “compelling” schools to reopen.
On Fox News Sunday, DeVos said she and the president are looking at ways to cut federal funding for schools that do not reopen. "Give it to the families who can go to a school that will make that promise,” said DeVos.
"It is disturbing to get a phone call from a teacher whose husband has lung disease and diabetes and who is fearful that if she goes back to work, she’ll be putting her husband’s life in jeopardy,” said Melissa Cropper, President of the Ohio Federation of Teachers.
Cropper was part of a virtual panel Monday hosted by the Ohio Democratic Party.
Worthington City Schools Board Member Sam Shim was also part of the discussion. He said he recently lost his father to COVID-19.
"It was really devastating and what shocked me was how quickly he deteriorated,” Shim said.
Currently, Worthington is finalizing its remote learning and classroom return options. Franklin County falls under red in the state’s new color-coded system which means districts like Worthington are in a “very high” exposure and spread risk.
Columbus City Schools, the largest school district in the state, also sits in Franklin County and received $90 million in federal funds last fiscal year. Many of the funds are designated to disadvantaged children and students with special needs.
The Columbus Education Association is encouraging CCS to align its fall plan with the state’s new color-coded system. CEA feels if Franklin County stays in red or transitions to purple which indicated “severe risk” then no child should return to the classroom.
Instead of taking away funds, Cropper is pushing for Ohio’s two U.S. senators to pass the Heroes Act which would designate $2.1 billion more dollars for Ohio’s k-12 education and $1.1 billion for Ohio’s higher education. She said the money could be used for PPE and additional staff to clean.
"Some of our schools in Cleveland didn’t even have soap in the bathrooms because they couldn’t afford it to stock it all the time,” Cropper said. "Whether the (feds) take the money or not, the rhetoric is dangerous.”
Unions say if their teachers are forced to return to classroom settings in the fall, they could be eligible to file a grievance if they feel their working conditions are not safe.