COLUMBUS (WCMH) – Gov. Mike DeWine reiterated his administration’s stance Tuesday that any school that accepts the state’s COVID-19 vaccination plan must have students back in the classroom by March 1.

That includes Columbus City Schools, which has not released a plan to have all of its students back to in-person or hybrid learning by the deadline.

“If the school is not going to have every student back fully in-person or hybrid by March 1, then they’re breaking the agreement,” DeWine said.

Columbus City Schools’ students pre-kindergarten through fifth grade attend in-person classes two days a week, with the other three days online. Those identified with complex needs and students in career and technical education programs also attend this same hybrid learning model.

The district has said transportation issues are holding up returning all students to at least some in-person classes.

During his coronavirus briefing, DeWine said all the school districts across the state but one signed the agreement to get students back into the classroom.

“I think taxpayers, I think the citizens of Ohio, but more importantly, the children have the right to say, ‘If that was the agreement, you should go ahead and do that,’” he said.

The governor added that students, particularly in urban centers like Columbus, need to get back in school for academic, emotional, and social reasons.

The decision to vaccinate the state’s teachers and other school employees before other groups of Ohioans was a “tough call,” the governor said, but had to be done in order to get the students back into schools.

“We felt that it was worth it, tough call, but worth it to get these kids back in school, to go ahead and say, ‘Yes, we’re going to vaccinate your employees, we’re going to vaccinate your teachers, anybody else in your school who wants the vaccine, but the deal is you need to be back in full force March 1,’” DeWine said. “I don’t know how to explain it any other way.”

Lt. Gov. Jon Husted echoed DeWine’s stance.

“Remember, they knew what the promise was when they signed the document,” Husted said. “Everyone knowingly took the vaccine knowing that those were the rules.”

A Columbus City School Board meeting is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Tuesday. A preview posted on the district’s website does not mention a discussion of in-person instruction.

DeWine said the return to school plan has, generally, been a success.

“Overall, it’s been worth it,” he said.

A statement from Columbus City Schools reiterated that transportation remains an issue in bringing back all students for in-person classes. The district added that staffing in classrooms is also an issue.

The full statement is below:

We are aware of Governor DeWine’s comments today about Columbus City Schools’ transition to blended learning and our commitment to return all students to their classrooms. Since February 1, we have transitioned nearly 24,000 students to the blended learning model across 97 school buildings in our district. This includes general education students in grades PreK-5, students with complex needs in grades PreK-12, and our Career and Technical Education students.

We continue to work on plans to bring back the remainder of our students in grades 6-12, but that does not come without significant challenges, namely transportation capacity and continuity of classroom staff coverage. We have discussed our transportation barriers with the Governor’s Office and outlined the challenges to safely transport all CCS, charter, and non-public students across the city while adhering to COVID-19 guidelines.

Columbus City Schools remains committed to finding solutions to these barriers and transitioning all students to blended learning as soon as it is feasible to do so.

Columbus City Schools statement

Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther, who has talked to Husted about this issue, said he is happy with the work Columbus City Schools has done to get students back into the classroom.

“I’m really proud of the work that Dr. Dixon and the board have done to get K-5 students back in person as well as special needs and some of the career center students,” he said. “That’s taken a lot of work. As you know, CCS is not just responsible for transporting CCS students but also private school students and charter school students, so there is a significant amount of logistics that’s involved.”

Ginther added he will continue working with Dixon and Husted, among others, to make progress in getting students back into the classrooms.

“We’re continuing to talk, I’m gonna talk to the superintendent again tomorrow and we’re continuing to work together to bring additional resources to the table if necessary, working with other districts and partners in the community,” he said. “I feel confident we’re gonna see more and more students in classrooms in the coming weeks.”