The Cincinnati Federation of Teachers is suing Cincinnati Public Schools to delay the return to blended learning.
On Friday, the union filed a complaint and a motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction in the Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas. The action seeks to delay CPS' reopening until an arbitrator decides if the return to blended learning poses a health and safety threat to teachers, staff and students.
In a release, CFT President Julie Sellers said the lawsuit is a "last resort."
"We are disappointed the Board of Education and Superintendent (Laura) Mitchell refused to seek input from teachers about when and how to reopen schools safely, even as Hamilton County remains rated 'red' on Ohio's COVID rating," Sellers said. "That indicates our community remains in 'public emergency' status with 'very high exposure and spread' of COVID."
Sellers later told WVXU she doesn’t understand why the return is being pushed, despite Governor Mike DeWine's requirement for superintendents to sign a letter of intent to resume in-person learning by March 1 as a condition of staff receiving priority access to the vaccine.
During a Jan. 16 board meeting, the district said it planned to sign the letter.
Staff members across Cincinnati Public Schools began receiving vaccinations over the weekend. At least 1,950 COVID-19 vaccines were planned to be administered across a three-day stretch.
"The timing is absolutely horrible for students to make this transition," Sellers said. "I don't know why they can't do it at a natural break."
In the lawsuit, CFT says the school board abandoned metrics for reopening schools it adopted. In December, it was determined the city of Cincinnati would need to average 40 new cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 people per day for blended learning to resume. Two days before the board voted on the phased-in approach, the city was averaging 66 new daily cases. Hamilton County was also "purple" on the state's Public Health Advisory System when the decision to return to blended learning was made.
CPS released a statement Saturday evening regarding the lawsuit, which you can read in full below.
This statement responds to the complaint filed late last night by the Cincinnati Federation of Teachers union. Cincinnati Public Schools’ (CPS) Office of General Counsel is reviewing the complaint and will respond in accordance with the court's schedule.
At this time, CPS is proceeding with its plan to return to blended instruction. The in-person A/B schedule begins on Tuesday, February 2, 2021, for most students in grades preschool through three and specialized classrooms.
CPS is aware of concerns that have been expressed by some staff about returning to school buildings and has been actively engaged in accommodating employees who are unable or unwilling to continue teaching or performing their jobs when students return.
Data and experience have shown that transmission of COVID-19 is low in schools that implement rigorous health protocols. In addition to implementing the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and State of Ohio guidelines for schools, CPS has assigned nurses to every school, onsite COVID testing for students through a partnership with Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, and soon staff will have access to COVID rapid tests.
CPS migrated to distance learning in November due to staffing concerns. Since then, we have hired additional subs, the CDC has shortened the quarantine period for most people from fourteen to ten days, and the vaccine roll out has begun.
On Thursday, CPS employees were among the first school staff in the state to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. By the end of the day Saturday, more than one-third of CPS teachers, instructional assistants, custodial staff, and other employees will have received the first dose of the vaccine. The vaccine roll out will continue until all staff who want a vaccine have received both doses. CPS is grateful to Governor DeWine, the Cincinnati Health Department, and our employees for the successful implementation of the vaccination program this week.
The phase-in plan to blended learning over the next four weeks demonstrates a slow and methodical approach, during which we will continue to actively monitor staffing levels and health data. Families who prefer to continue with distance learning have the option of receiving fully remote instruction through CPS's Digital Academy (CDA). CDA has been available to our families throughout the 2020-21 school year, and has an open enrollment policy. More than 1,200 students have chosen this option.
CPS looks forward to welcoming its youngest learners and children in specialized classrooms back into our school buildings on Tuesday.
CFT will ask for a hearing on its request for a temporary restraining order in Common Pleas Court on Monday, Feb. 1.
You can read the full press release from the Cincinnati Federation of Teachers below: