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'None Of Us Want To Say The Word 'Virtual' Again': CPS Board Revisits Idea To Mandate Staff Get Vaccinated Against COVID-19

The board of Cincinnati Public Schools restarted conversations regarding a mandatory COVID-19 vaccine policy for employees Monday evening, the same day the Pfizer vaccine received full approval from the FDA.

The policy will be discussed further Thursday by the Policy and Equity Committee. The in-person meeting will start at 9 a.m. at the CPS Education Center.

Talks about a policy began in May. Board Member Mike Moroski cited the rise in COVID-19 cases for revisiting the possible mandate now.

"A number of members have said this tonight - if not all members - that none of us want to have to say the word 'virtual' again when we're talking about learning," Moroski said. "It does seem that the vaccination is proven to be one of the best ways to help us avoid doing that."

Board President Carolyn Jones says this is the right time to restart discussions on a vaccine policy.

"I'd like to hear more about the legal aspects of this in terms of if we do pass a policy, how we do fair enforcement," Jones said.

Board members voiced similar legal concerns in June. Pros and cons of a vaccine requirement were first brought up during a Policy and Equity Committee meeting May 27. Pros included providing a healthy environment and reducing quarantines; cons include possible issues with the union and possible loss of staff.

Since May 2020, nearly 2,000 CPS students and staff have tested positive for COVID-19. More than 70% of staff have received the two-dose Pfizer vaccine, which is currently only approved for age 12 and up.

Search For New Superintendent

CPS' board also provided an update on the search for a new superintendent.

Board Vice President Ryan Messer said the board developed a request for proposal (RFP) to select an executive search firm who will aid in recruiting the district's next superintendent.

So far, the board has narrowed the RFPs from nine to five. Two board members will work with CPS' recruiting team to select a search firm. That decision will be made in September when the nationwide search for a superintendent will commence.

Tianay Amat was appointed as Interim Superintendent in May after Laura Mitchell resigned to become president and CEO of Beech Acres Parenting Center.

Transportation Update

Meanwhile, Amat addressed transportation issues students across the district faced on the first day of school.

More buses will be added to address long dismissals at Western Hills and Walnut Hills. The district has requested 11 additional crossing guards and two new crosswalks from the city of Cincinnati to handle traffic control at Walnut, Withrow, Shroder and Aiken high schools.

Disappointment over the elimination of Metro bus routes for CPS students is still being voiced by residents and staff, including Aiken teacher Clayton Adams. He says staff members across school buildings have to work overtime due to issues with dismissals.

"It is outrageous and insulting that CPS pays SORTA (the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority) $8 million a year and this is how they treat our students," Adams said. "I hope the school board members and district administration work to right this wrong for CPS students, faculty and staff."

Students who have issues with buses arriving too early, long commute times, or having to make multiple transfers are advised to contact Metro directly to adjust routes.

SORTA elected to eliminate student Metro bus routes right before school started Aug. 19. SORTA says it has a driver shortage and the decision is necessary to avoid delaying or reducing services under the Reinventing Metro plan.

CPS and Metro are implementing measures to help with transportation.

Cory Sharber attended Murray State University majoring in journalism and political science and comes to Cincinnati Public Radio from NPR Member station WKMS.