School bus

COLUMBUS -- Officials and superintendents said local control is a good thing for Ohio school districts, but consistency and guidance from the state is necessary in a global pandemic.

Opponents and interested parties testified in a recent meeting of the Senate Education Committee regarding Senate Bill 320, which seeks to give full authority for school reopenings to the districts for the 2020-2021 school year.

The bill’s language excludes “other public officials” from determining a school’s readiness to reopen. That includes the Ohio Department of Health and the governor.

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Gov. Mike DeWine is expected to announce guidelines for districts this week, though superintedents in Richland County have said they expected a combination of in-person and online education.

Dr. Eugene T.W. Sanders, CEO and Superintendent of Sandusky City Schools, said his district is preparing multiple plans for the fall school year, including traditional opening and fully online options.

He said administrators had “very specific details” when they were closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and that guidance is still needed for them to move forward.

“While we love the ability to make our own local decisions — we think that’s important and part of the democratic process — we do need the standard parameters that we’ve historically received… so that there’s consistency across the board, not just in our region but across the state of Ohio,” Sanders said.

Members of the committee asked Ohio Education Association president Scott DiMauro about questioning the judgment of school boards and superintendents after he argued that local control in how schools operate doesn’t discount the need for health guidance.

“Why would you not trust your local school boards and superintendents who know their school districts the best, taking information from state and local health departments to be able to determine whether or not their local school districts should be open?” asked Sen. Andrew Brenner, R-Powell.

DiMauro said it wasn’t a question of trust, rather a question of “who is best positioned to make critical decisions in the midst of a global pandemic.”

“To completely leave this in the hands of local school districts, given the fact that we’ve got over 600 of them across the state, many of them in very close proximity to each other, to us just doesn’t seem to make much sense,” DiMauro said.

The committee did not vote on the measure, but Chair Sen. Peggy Lehner, R-Kettering, said they may hold another committee meeting next week before breaking for the summer.

(The above article was first published in the Ohio Capital Journal and is republished here with permission.)