COLUMBUS, Ohio — Before vaccinating staff, Ohio’s public school superintendents had to pledge they would bring students back to school by March 1, but seven of Ohio’s schools fell short of the deadline and say they need more time.

Several Ohio school districts transitioned Monday to in-person or hybrid learning models, and others plan to in the next week as part of an agreement with the state. As a prerequisite for vaccinations of teachers and other district staff, superintendents or chief administration officers had to sign a commitment letter in January acknowledging they were “required to return to an in-person or hybrid learning model by March 1.”

Gov. Mike DeWine said it was critical schools reopened by March 1, pressuring schools to reopen in a televised evening address and briefly threatening to withhold vaccines from defiant schools.

“If you’re not going to go back then we need to take these vaccines, and frankly, put them toward a group that’s more vulnerable,” though the state ultimately agreed not to take that measure.

Now that the deadline has passed, there’s still a handful of districts that haven’t returned to in-person or hybrid learning and are opting to remain remote.

Out of 609 school districts, 416 of them are in person five days a week, 183 are either partial or full access to hybrid, and 10 districts remain fully remote, according to the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) as of Feb. 25. The state updates each district’s learning models every Wednesday, but until then, here’s what we know so far.

Akron Public Schools

The district is currently in virtual learning but plans to return to full time, in-person learning with 3-feet distancing for the last quarter of the school year. “There is evidence that schools with in-person learning models who practice these protocols have experienced minimal virus spread.

This, combined with the vaccination program for our teachers and staff, makes us ready to proceed after one year of all remote learning,” Superintendent David James said in a message to families. Students grades K-2 will return to classrooms on March 8, followed by all grade levels on March 15. About 30% of students are opting to remain in virtual learning, according to district officials.

Columbus City Schools

In Columbus, students grades 6-12 remain in virtual learning, but the district has announced plans to offer a blended learning model with two days per week of in-person instruction. On March 15, grades 6, 11 and 12 will return, followed by students in grades 6-10 on March 22.

The district said its biggest challenge has been figuring out transportation, however, Superintendent Talisa Dixon said in a message to the school community those logistics have been addressed with new partnerships and thorough planning.

A desk that says "welcome back! We missed you!"
Schools are reopening with COVID-19 protocols like distanced desks. (Garfield Heights)

Cleveland Metropolitan School District

After the district announced plans to return March 1 in early January, school officials announced Thursday classes won’t be in person until March 8. The school district will be taking a phased approach for a safe return. The district will let a handful of students back in three different phases.

Students in phase 1 will start in-person classes on March 8, the second group will begin March 15, and all students will be back in schools by March 22.

A handful of teachers reported back to the classrooms March 1, while the rest are expected to return March 8. The Cleveland Teachers Union released a statement last week saying the delay was needed for a safe return.

“The members of the Cleveland Teachers Union are encouraged that the district is showing their willingness to adjust their timeline to ensure the safety of educators, students, and families, as well as to facilitate a smooth transition for our educators and students to in-person, hybrid learning.”

Garfield Heights City Schools, Cuyahoga County

The district said it is transitioning to hybrid in-person learning on March 8, and “just more than 50%” of the student body has opted for in-person learning, according to Lisa Miller, administrative assistant to the superintendent.

“The decision to return on March 8 aligns with a variety of significant factors, including the final vaccination for our staff taking place on Wednesday, March 3rd, our community’s expressed wishes, which we determined through multiple surveys conducted over the last year or so and virtual town hall meetings, and the District’s exhaustive efforts to keep buildings safe,” the school said in a statement.

According to Miller, Garfield Heights has installed new air circulation systems and wall-mounted thermal imaging thermometers for temperature checks.

Walnut Hills High School, Cincinnati

Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS) is following a blended learning model, but one school, Walnut Hills High, remains in remote learning according to spokesperson Frances Russ. As a result, the state lists CPS as “partial hybrid.”

According to a statement from the school board, Walnut Hills High School will remain in distance learning until the district “elects to accept three-feet social distance as the standard for all schools.”

The district began a phased return to hybrid learning on Feb. 1. As of March 1, all students had the option to be in hybrid learning with the exception of the Walnut Hills students.

All but a few of Ohio's districts have brought students back to school buildings. (Garfield Heights)

Youngstown City School District

Students will have the option for in-person hybrid learning beginning March 15. The Youngstown City School District said its transportation resources are a concern and the district may need to contract with an outside provider for some of its students, a statement from CEO Justin Jennings said. The district said it was installing “desk shields” and implementing other safety measures.

Richmond Heights Local Schools, Cuyahoga County

The state's dashboard said Richmond Heights Local Schools was offering hybrid learning to some students. According to state officals, the district has a plan to offer in-person instruction to all students in the coming weeks. District officials could not be reached for comment. 

Jefferson Township Local Schools, Montgomery County

The sole public district in Ohio that declined vaccinations for school staff, Jefferson Township remains in a virtual learning model.

Transitioned to In-Person Learning

A number of schools that were listed as virtual or “partial hybrid” transitioned on March 1 to learning models that satisfy the commitments that the districts made for vaccinations, including Dayton Public Schools, Toledo Public Schools, Maple Heights City Schools in Cuyahoga County, Yellow Springs Schools in Greene County, Northridge Local Schools in Montgomery County, and Trotwood-Madison City Schools in Montgomery County. Cleveland Heights-University Heights City School District transitioned to full hybrid learning the week prior, on Feb. 22.