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CMSD Opts In On Staff Vaccinations; Aims For Hybrid Learning In March

The Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD) has opted in to Ohio’s early coronavirus vaccination program for teachers and staff, aiming to move students out of remote learning and into a hybrid model “sometime in March,” according to CEO Eric Gordon.

There is no guarantee on a start date for in-person learning, however, particularly with the current high rate of COVID-19 infections in Cuyahoga County, Gordon said.

“The spread has increased and the promise of the vaccines, although exciting, seems to still be a bit away, likely mid-February,” Gordon said. “We will by mid-February be assessing March. And if things improve beforehand, we'll obviously accelerate our return.”

CMSD has 7,000 staff members who have the option to be vaccinated. Staff will be vaccinated in five phases, according to Gordon.

In December, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine pointed to a mid-January start date for vaccinating K-12 school personnel, with the goal of having students in class in some capacity by March 1.  However, DeWine has since acknowledged that timeline must be pushed back, mostly due to the extremely limited supply of vaccine. Currently, the state plans to begin vaccinating teachers the week of Feb. 1, as part of the state’s Phase 1B vaccine rollout.

“I think also part of what [DeWine] has acknowledged is that there is a shortage of a shortage of vaccine available in Ohio. And so the ability for us to vaccinate our 7,000 educators, which means 14,000 [doses], is really reliant on that availability,” Gordon said. “So I applaud the governor's commitment to focus on K-12 first, but I think we all have to remember that this roll out is happening slower than we'd like.”

Another crucial factor in considering the return to classrooms is that 86 percent of CMSD’s students and their families are people of color, Gordon said.

“We have much higher health risks and that puts our community in the health risk category and our families are those essential workers that are going to work,” he said. “It's also a more complicated puzzle in a community like ours, because almost half, maybe more of our families have indicated in our three surveys that they're not comfortable coming back to school.”

Gordon also points to the fact that many staff members don’t want to get the vaccine because of a historic and racially based mistrust of the medical system. CMSD will have to help educate and convince staff members that the COVID-19 vaccine is safe and effective, Gordon said.

“We also know that schools are not super-spreader spaces,” he said. “We do know that the problem is what we bring to school. It's not that we're sharing it at school. And so, every tool is valuable. The vaccines are valuable. The ability to test students, if that becomes a reality is valuable. And our work as a community to wear a mask socially distance, wash our hands so that the public health risk comes down is valuable.”

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