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Cincinnati Public Schools lifts COVID-19 testing requirement for employees

Ambriehl Crutchfield

Cincinnati Public Schools will lift its COVID-19 testing policy for unvaccinated employees going forward. However, regular testing could be reinstated if cases rise. The CPS board voted on the policy change at its Monday meeting.

In the past week, only three staff members tested positive for the virus. Board member Mike Moroski says the testing policy required hiring extra staff to keep track of the data.

"Our staff has taken this extraordinarily seriously and has tracked down every person," Moroski said. "[The] employee has to get the test, then the staff has to find people that didn't and then remind them to take it. It takes a lot of time."

Board members did address a new COVID subvariant popping up in Europe. In the U.K., rising COVID cases have been attributed to the BA.2 omicron subvariant, the widespread removal of COVID restrictions, and to waning immunity from vaccinations and infections. Assistant Superintendent Susan Bunte says she discussed the concerns with the Cincinnati Health Department.

"If we've been vaccinated or previously infected, along with the warmer weather that we are currently entering in with Spring, that this would provide some protective effects overall for our community," Bunte said.

Last September, CPS became the first school district in Ohio to mandate COVID-19 vaccines for employees. The policy required all district employees and co-located partners to receive their shots. "Co-located partners" include health partners, resource coordinators, school resource officers and other partners working out of a district building. All employees would be required to receive vaccinations unless a religious or medical exemption is claimed. Then, they would need to undergo weekly testing.

More than 4,200 students and 1,400 staff within CPS contracted COVID-19 during the school year.

In January, the district went remote due to staffing shortages caused by COVID-19. At the time, Greater Cincinnati was reporting a positivity rate of 32.7% and Cincinnati was reporting a 39.1% rate. Cincinnati currently has a positivity rate of 2.5%. As of last Monday, the Greater Cincinnati region had a 2.1% rate.

Earlier this month, CPS board members voted to lift the district's mask mandate. When COVID-19 cases in the community are low or medium, mask-wearing will be voluntary for students, staff and visitors. When community cases are high, CPS will recommend the Board require mask-wearing again. Students, staff, and visitors who test positive for COVID-19 are recommended to wear masks for 10 days upon returning to the district. Those infected would be required to isolate for the first five days upon testing positive according to the CDC's quarantine and isolation guidelines.

During Monday's board meeting, it was confirmed newly appointed superintendent Iranetta Wright will start May 2. Wright has been the deputy superintendent of schools for Detroit Public Schools Community District since 2017. Previously, she worked for over 25 years in Duval County Public Schools in Florida.

Looking forward, Wright will be working with a school board with three new members, as well as a new president. The district will also be dealing with the ongoing impact of the pandemic. Wright will also have to work to find new transportation partners after Metro's contract with CPS runs out Jun. 30.

This story has been updated.

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