COLUMBUS (WCMH) – This week, Columbus Public Schools announced a plan to return to a blended learning model on Feb. 1.

However, with the COVID-19 vaccine still in short supply, the union representing staff members is wondering if the move is happening too soon.

In just two weeks, some Columbus City Schools students will be back in the classroom for the first time in nearly a year.

Select groups of students, including all pre-K through third grade students, will move to a blended learning model. The following week, on Feb. 8, fourth and fifth graders will shift to blended learning as well.

Unless they have complex needs, students in grades sixth through 12 will remain in remote learning due to a shortage of bus drivers and capacity issues due to COVID-19 guidelines.

The Columbus Education Association is the union that represents more than 4,000 teachers and staff members in the district.

Even though they negotiated an agreement of health and safety protocols with the district before the start of the year, CEA President John Coneglio said he’s concerned that teachers will still be at risk.

“The safer the environment, the better,” Coneglio said. “Safer for our teachers, safer for our staff, and safer for kids.”

With teachers eligible to get vaccinated on the same day blended learning will start, he wonders if the transition is happening a little too soon.

“Our teachers are dying to be in front of our kids,” Coneglio said. “They want to be in the classroom. However, there is apprehension among teachers about catching COVID and being out and you can’t blame them for that. You can’t blame them for being worried about catching COVID.”

Coneglio said the more contagious strain of COVID-19 found in Ohio is another area of concern for staff.

The district said it will be following all of the best practices when blended learning starts. Those practices were discussed during a meeting between staff and parents.

“Each building will have a school nurse responsible for tracking and monitoring sysmptons, possible exposures, and positive cases,” said Dr. Kate King, Columbus City Schools’ director of Health, Family and Community Services.

The district will also presume students are positive if they start showing symptoms of the virus. Parents would then have 30 minutes to pick up their children and take them home.

“We’re going to escort them to a separation room so that they will not be with other children,” King said.

Coneglio said the union agreet to the protocols before the start of the new school year, but still believes the safest thing for teachers and students is what they’re already doing.

“The union’s always going to say that we’re safer remote,” he said. “Our teachers are safer and our students are safer when we’re in remote learning. The decision to go back to in person learning is not CEA’s, it is the district’s.”

The district also said it is working with community partners like Columbus Public Health and Nationwide Children’s Hospital on the transition to blended learning to make sure it is done as safely as possible.