Governor: Ohio ‘fully intends’ for schools to reopen in fall

By Andrew Welsh-Huggins - Associated Press

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Gov. Mike DeWine said Tuesday the state “fully intends” for schools to reopen this fall in an announcement coming almost exactly two months after he shut down schools for what turned out to be the remainder of the spring semester.

“The goal is to have kids back in the classroom,” the governor said at a news briefing that covered both the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and protests across the state over racism and police violence against minorities.

DeWine’s comment didn’t order schools to reopen, and he also said the date for starting was entirely up to local education boards.

The state would provide districts with broad health guidelines ahead of time, “fully recognizing that over 600 school districts are very different, and have very different needs and very different situations,” the governor said.

Dr. Amy Acton, DeWine’s Health Department director, issued an order in March that closed all K-12 schools for three weeks, though it was later extended for the remainder of the year.

DeWine also said Tuesday that health care providers can resume all procedures and surgeries postponed during the coronavirus pandemic, including ones that require overnight stays.

Although Acton began her own remarks Tuesday running through Ohio’s latest COVID-19 statistics, she grew emotional as she discussed the health disparities faced by minorities.

“It is unacceptable that your ZIP code on average can predict how long you will live,” Acton said. “There are things we can’t control. But there are things that are in our control. And even in the times when we’re on our knees and reeling is this pearl of hope that we can do more.”

She also made a direct appeal to Ohioans to fight both disparities in health care and racism.

“I am begging of you. Please use your voice. Speak. Most importantly listen, please listen to one another,” Acton said. “But I beg of you not to hurt one another. We cannot see the other person as that, as ‘other.’”

Ohio had more than 36,000 confirmed and probable coronavirus cases as of Tuesday, and 2,258 confirmed and probable deaths, according to Health Department data.

On Monday, DeWine’s budget director said she’s seeking pay freezes and cuts for state employees as the coronavirus pandemic continues to depress tax revenue.

Updated forecasts for the budget year beginning July 1 show an even deeper hole of $2.5 billion in state funding, according to Kimberly Murnieks, DeWine’s director of the Office of Budget and Management.

In response, Murnieks said her office will ask lawmakers to freeze pay and step advancement increases for non-union employees beginning in July. A hiring freeze will also continue except for employees providing a direct response to the pandemic.

Murnieks also ordered pay cuts of 3.8% for non-union workers and 4% for cabinet directors, which would include her own salary. The office is also asking unions beginning June 15 to discuss ways to reduce personnel costs for the employees they represent.

Ohio’s unemployment rate hit nearly 17% in April, the highest since the state’s current record-keeping system was developed almost 50 years ago. In the past 10 weeks, about 1.3 million people have filed for unemployment, more than the total in the past three years.

By Andrew Welsh-Huggins

Associated Press