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A proposed change could have major ramifications on local schools around Ohio

Andy Chow

Credit Andy Chow
State Board of Education with President Debe Terhar in the background (in the red jacket

Some believe a pending vote from the state’s top education leaders could have major ramifications on local schools around Ohio.

The debate is over Ohio's "5 of 8" rule, requiring elementary schools to provide at least five of eight specialist positions for every 1,000 students.

The positions are art, music, and physical education teachers, along with school counselors, library media specialists, nurses, social workers and visiting teachers.

It’s a topic taking social media by storm.  Here are some sample tweets. 

If ed specialists eliminated, OH will suffer major failure of imagination—Tweets Clyde Gaw

Without arts education, and a decent library, how [are] kids going to learn to express themselves?—writes Katelyn Erbacher

Once it’s gone, it won’t come back. Maintain your standards, Ohio. Teach the whole child—Jessica Holloway tweets

They’re all using the hashtag “5of8” or “Ohio5of8.”

“This just gives flexibility to these schools districts to assess their own needs and priorities and make hiring decisions based on the staffing needs that they have,"  says John Charlton with the Ohio Department of Education. He says changing the rule—which has been around since the early 80’s—is about giving more control to local districts.

A board committee has been trying to find ways of revising the language, and this proposed change comes out of that process.

But Scott DiMauro, vice president of the Ohio Education Association—the state’s largest teachers union—says requiring just five of the eight specialists in schools is already setting a low bar.

“And if you take away those minimum standards then we’re afraid—particularly in districts that don’t have as many resources—that there’s going to be a race to the bottom,” DiMauro said. 

The idea of no longer requiring courses like music and art—or positions such as nurses and counselors—is riling up many different groups around the state. A number of those groups lined up to testify before a board meeting during its allotted time for public comments.

But as board member Ann Jacobs explains, a last minute change to the agenda by the board president pushed public comments back a couple of hours.

“And that was very concerning to a number of us because people drive—they miss school—they take a day off—it’s a big deal for them to come and participate,” said Jacobs. 

She called for a vote to readjust the agenda,  Jacobs says, but believes her request wasn’t taken seriously. That’s when she and three other board members walked out.

“Because they thought it was completely disrespectful.”

The groups—both for and against the change—ended up waiting about an hour and a half to get their chance to speak. Many noted the importance of the different specialties and how they play a big role towards a well-rounded education.

But Charlton says every district has its own unique circumstances—demanding more wiggle room than the current rules allow.

“A lot of urban districts will have a community health center built into the school so anyone that needs it can get their health services there so can the students—so why would you have a school nurse when you have a health service center right in your building?” said Charlton.

Since the economic downturn—these classes and positions tend to be the first on the chopping block. DiMauro says believes this is because of the pressure put on standardized testing of the core subjects like math and English.

“That creates an unfortunate incentive that when there are shortages of resources—you’re gonna cut programs like the arts—you’re gonna cut support services like guidance counselors and nurses first," says DiMauro.

A.J. Wagner is one of the board members who walked out of the meeting. He says he’s still not sure how he’ll vote on the issue.

“At what point does the state step in and say ‘these positions must be funded’ and at what point does the state respect their need for flexibility and their budgets because they’re so tight and says ‘go ahead you make the decisions we’ll trust you to do that.’ It’s a tough decision for me," Wagner said.

Wagner and the rest of the members have until next month to make a decision. That’s when the board is expected to hold a vote.