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State Senator Peggy Lehner on Education in the Age of COVID

State Senator Peggy Lehner says Ohioans need to help their neighbors to overcome the challenges of educating children during the coronavirus crisis.
Joshua Lim – Scripps intern
State Senator Peggy Lehner says Ohioans need to help their neighbors to overcome the challenges of educating children during the coronavirus crisis.

With schools across the Miami Valley gearing up to reopen in the middle of a pandemic, WYSO’s Jason Reynolds spoke to State Senator Peggy Lehner, who chairs the Ohio Senate’s education committee.

Senator Lehner represents District 6, which includes Kettering, Vandalia, Huber Heights, Centerville and other Dayton suburbs. She says our communities need to come together quickly and get creative.

SENATOR LEHNER: Kids really need to be back in school, both for their academic well-being and for their emotional and mental health well-being. Not to mention the fact that this is how we provide daycare so parents can be working.

But we can’t put them in a situation that is going to spread the virus more or put their own lives at risk. That appears to be fairly minimal—the risk to the kids themselves—but if it's your kid who catches COVID and dies, you don’t really care what the stats are. There’s no good answer here.

J. REYNOLDS: Do you think the schools are being put in an untenable position here?

SENATOR LEHNER: I do think the schools are being put in an untenable position, but I don’t think there’s anything that anyone can do about that. We are in the midst of a huge crisis, and we haven’t been acting like that. We should be working together. I mean, issues, for example like transportation. Why aren’t parents getting together and saying, “Hey, look. My kid doesn’t need to be on a bus. I can drive them to school. I can drive your kids to school, too”? Employers could be saying things like, “We will be lenient about people arriving a half hour late,” recognizing that people need to take their children to school. Working together like that to try to come up with alternative solutions instead of just relying on the government to do it.

J. REYNOLDS: I was actually curious about state guidance. When you see Centerville having an every other day plan, Oakwood having a half-day plan, it feels like school districts are just throwing spaghetti off the walls. Is that a concern? Should there be more guidance there?

SENATOR LEHNER: Well, when you have that guidance, some people are complaining that the government is treating them one-size-fits-all, and you have that sort of rebellion we saw happening in the spring and over the summer. [People were saying] “Everyone is not the same. Lima is not the same as Cleveland, and Dayton is not the same as Kettering.”

So, the government said, “Alright, let each individual jurisdiction do it. Here are the guidelines you need to stay safe, but we’re going to let you figure it out.”

Now, everyone’s complaining because you’ve got this hodgepodge of situations.

J. REYNOLDS: I’ve heard the Ohio Education Association and teachers calling for some sort of bailout or funding because they’ve had so much cut at the state level. Do you see any way to enable them to do the job they’re being asked to do?

SENATOR LEHNER: You’ve actually got teachers who are going to be teaching kids in the classroom, some kids half-in and half-out, and some kids totally online. So, teachers are doing triple the job they were doing before, and without additional resources. But where those additional resources are going to come from, I don’t know. Because we raise revenue through income tax, and if we don’t have any taxes, we don’t raise revenue.

I think we’re being challenged as a country, frankly, right now and as a people, and we’re not measuring up real well. I’m not real proud of how any of us are dealing with this once in a lifetime crisis. And I think if we don’t start working together in a spirit or sacrifice and creative thinking, apolitical thinking, we are not going to come out of this well at all.

I really fear for what we look like as a country on the other side of COVID.