A man dressed in full crusader knight garb, a published anti-Islamic author and an emigrant from Socialist Romania were among the crowd that gathered last Saturday in Mayfield Heights for a Free Ohio Schools Now Rally.
The organization behind the push to open school buildings for in-person classes this fall held rallies all over Ohio last weekend to draw attention to their cause.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine closed school buildings in mid-March as part of the state’s efforts to slow the spread of the highly contagious coronavirus. The state began opening up last month. How schools will hold classes this fall has not been determined as the state and local school district officials work on plans.
“They’re talking about attending school classes every other day as a possibility,” event organizer Joe Miller told the crowd of roughly 30 individuals, gathered at the far end of the parking lot outside Mayfield’s Eastgate Shopping Plaza. “I’m not sure how that could work with moms and dads that work.
“Social distancing of 6 feet will be maintained even for the littlest of kids. You’ve got to wear a mask all day and we know that breathing in your filthy, recycled air is really healthy. Excessive sanitizing and hand washing all day long for the kids, if they touch anything they are to wash their hands.”
Mr. Miller, who has organized four previous rallies for Free Ohio Now, compared the “new normal” that Gov. DeWine is proposing for school districts to be a “concentration camp.” The crowd cheered when he mentioned former Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Amy Acton’s resignation last week.
There were some in the crowd challenging the protesters.
Mark Neubauer, 53, of Mayfield Heights, countered that it is not possible to keep kids safe under the guidelines the protesters were suggesting.
“You see the signs,” he said. “It says we should open Ohio. We look pretty open to me, and I think that Gov. DeWine said it’s now like 98 percent of the businesses in the state of Ohio are free to reopen with conditions. Trump said COVID-19 is a hoax.
“No, it’s not a hoax. It’s real. Racism is real, white supremacy is real,” he said.
Steve Cika, an intervention specialist with Copley-Fairlawn City School District, said not all children can adjust to the administration’s proposals. “I deal with students with academic needs,” he told onlookers, “but more importantly with social and emotional needs. A lot of them have behavior issues, home lives that are less than desirable. The masks, the social distancing. We have a lot of kids who have sensory issues. When a mask comes into play, that’s borderline torture for these types of children.”
The event was also organized in part by Stephanie Stock, president of Ohio Advocates For Medical Freedom, a group that she said advocates for children’s rights, vaccination exemption rights and informed consent.
She told protestors that contact tracing is a big no for her group, and informed them of several bills they should support, like HB 606 proposed by state Rep. Diane Grendell, R-Chester, which prevents employees who contract COVID-19 on the job from taking legal action against their employers.
Amy Sisley, 41, of Independence was holding a handwritten sign with KLM, for Kids Lives Matter. “I think it’s important that kids get back to school,” she said. “This is actually affecting them negatively. This whole thing, for the kids especially, has been blown out of proportion.” Mrs. Sisley said her oldest daughter, who is enrolled in a special education program, has probably lost about a year and a half of learning due to the school building closures.
McKenzie Levie, who initially introduced himself as Mac Levi, was wearing full chainmail garb. He’s been a mainstay in the Cleveland-area protest scenes since Cleveland Scene put out a feature on the “Alt-Knight” in 2017.
He said he was attending the protest as a member of Order of the City. He said the coronavirus protests were somehow connected to the Black Lives Matter movement and Antifa.
Also at the rally was Tabitha Korol, a Beachwood resident who authored a book called “Confronting the Deception: Inflamed by 9/11, fired up by eight bad years,” who said she doesn’t understand the commotion about COVID-19.
“What’s going on?” she asked rhetorically. “What’s being said? We’re talking about a virus. We’ve had viruses all through my life. People have not shut down. This is the only time that people who are well were quarantined. Usually you quarantine the sick. This was terrible destruction. It got people angry.”
Horatio Lungu, 54, of Parma said he escaped Socialist Romania and came to America, where he became an avid freedom activist and eventually a Donald Trump supporter.
“I had to spend eight months in refugee camps, six [months] in Turkey and two in Italy while my dad and I were being vetted while vetting was still being done under President Reagan. I got here legally in 1986 and I’ve been supporting freedom ever since, much more now that we have a real president in office.”
He likened the pandemic to a coup “upon the peoples of the world. They’re using this, it’s been done before. History repeats itself.”
Meanwhile, public school districts across Northeast Ohio continue to work on the best ways to begin the 2020-2021 academic year. Cardinal Local Schools Superintendent Bill Kermavner said his district has been following the advice of a crisis team that’s been looking at Gov. DeWine’s recommendations. Getting decisions from the state fast is important, he said. “My understanding is we were supposed to get a decision as of June 1 and now I’ve heard July 1, which means it’s hard to plan school in the fall.”
Orange City School District Superintendent Lynn Campbell said he would prefer to send his own kids to school, if it was up to him. “Priority number one is learning,” he explained. “No matter how hard you try with virtual learning, you can’t match the classroom for the majority of students.”
Chagrin Falls Exempted Village School District Superintendent Robert Hunt said his district wants schools to open again, but only if it’s safe. “We have to lean on the guidance of the [Ohio] Health Department and those that truly understand this to give us guidance and direction to return in a safe way,” he said.
He also spoke to the organizers at Free Ohio Now directly. “I hope there’s clarity in what those expectations are, but I also hope somewhat they’re listening to people that do this every single day from an operation standpoint and what can possibly occur and makes sense.
“The implications of every other day or half day with PPE and hand sanitizer, I mean, there’s just growing costs to all of that. I hope there’s a balance between what’s realistic and what’s appropriate with not jeopardizing the safety and health and wellness of students and staff.”