Week in Review - 03/20/2020

Week in Review - 03/20/2020

EDUCATION

The federal government offered schools relief in response to the coronavirus, with the U.S. Department of Education saying it would consider “targeted, one-year” accountability waivers, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture granting Ohio’s request to waive requirements that free school meals be served in a group setting.


Testing vendor ACT delayed an upcoming national administration of its namesake test from Saturday, April 4 to Saturday, June 13 because of the coronavirus outbreak. The College Board, meanwhile, reported last-minute cancellations of testing that was to take place during an SAT administration over this past weekend. The state pays for all high school juniors to take either the SAT or ACT, as decided by local district leadership, with most schools opting for the ACT. Three of four ACT testing windows for this spring have passed. Some SAT administration windows are likewise in the past, but districts had a choice of having their online testing windows March 4-6 or April 14-16. 


Ohio schools looking to connect students and teachers via videoconference amid the coronavirus outbreak can turn to the state's Broadcast Educational Media Commission, which operates a video network operations center (VNOC) in addition to its role supporting public radio and TV stations in Ohio. Connections are also available for higher education.


ELECTIONS 2020

After making preparations related to coronavirus such as planning for sanitization and moving poll sites out of nursing homes, state leaders said the risks were too great and ordered polling sites closed for Tuesday’s primary election, setting off major legal battles in the process. Gov. Mike DeWine and Secretary of State Frank LaRose said they wanted to extend absentee voting and set a new in-person voting date of June 2. A former Ohio Department of Aging director and an immune-compromised woman filed a lawsuit to that effect but were rebuffed by Franklin County Common Pleas Judge Richard Frye, prompting DeWine to direct Ohio Department of Health (ODH) Director Amy Acton to take action. The plaintiffs then appealed to the 10th District, but later asked for dismissal. Rep. Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill), meanwhile, filed a motion with Frye's court seeking to intervene in the original case and to declare LaRose's directive invalid. Stephens' motion argues that LaRose did not have the authority to set a new primary date, and is asking the court to declare LaRose's directive null and void.


Separately, the Ohio Democratic Party filed a lawsuit seeking an extension of the election but on different terms than LaRose requested, asking that absentee voting be extended to late April. The Ohio Supreme Court expedited the case. 


House Speaker Larry Householder (R-Glenford) and Senate President Larry Obhof (R-Medina) both indicated they’ll bring lawmakers back to address the election delay and other coronavirus-related measures next week. Householder was insistent that only the General Assembly, not the executive branch or courts, can change an election date.


Ahead of the election, voter rights groups had urged changes in response to the coronavirus, including extension of early voting hours, recruiting more poll workers from lower risk groups and reimbursing local election officials for cleaning and hygiene supplies.


GENERAL ASSEMBLY/STATEHOUSE

Rep. Lisa Sobecki (D-Toledo) told Hannah News Monday her newly introduced bill to allow officials to meet electronically during a state public health emergency is focused on local governments, though she is awaiting a Legislative Service Commission (LSC) analysis to see whether it would include the Legislature as well. Given the "unprecedented time" Ohio faces due to coronavirus, Sobecki said it would enable local governments to take preventive actions similar to those pursued in the private sector.