(Correction: This article was updated at 4:40 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 15, to reflect the correct Oct. 19 date as posted by OKCPS online.)
Some students and teachers in Oklahoma City Public Schools are expected to return to in-person classes on Monday, Oct. 19.
OKCPS started its school year with distance learning for all grades Aug. 31, but at Monday night’s Board of Education meeting Superintendent Sean McDaniel discussed the district’s “return to campus” plan.
While classes were supposed to remain online for the first nine weeks of instruction, the plan now includes a first-step of bringing pre-K and kindergarten students back to a traditional classroom setting on an A/B schedule at the discretion of the student’s parent.
While McDaniel initially pitched Sept. 21 as the start date, board members asked to wait an additional week to provide teachers, parents and students more time to prepare. Some board members believed a Sept. 28 date would be chosen, but district staff met privately Tuesday morning and decided on Oct. 19 as the date for resuming pre-K and kindergarten, according to a district updated posted online.
“This will give our teachers more time to master virtual instruction and allow school leaders and other district teams to finalize plans to begin bringing students back to the buildings,” McDaniel said in a letter to district parents and staff.
The decision to bring younger OKCPS students back to in-person classes stems from the difficulty they have in a virtual learning environment, officials said Monday night.
“Our youngest learners have the most difficult time learning remotely,” McDaniel said. “We’ve had lots of interaction with moms and dads and grandparents and guardians talking about the necessity of them to sit right next to a 4 or 5-year-old the entire time they’re online, and it’s not an ideal learning environment.”
With the planned A/B schedule for pre-K and kindergarten classes, one set of students will attend school Monday and Tuesday while the other set will attend Thursday and Friday, with no group larger than nine. Wednesday will be a planning day for teachers as well as time to deep-clean school facilities. Students will also be given activity packets to complete from home on days they are not in the classroom to keep them engaged. Masks will be required on school grounds for all students and faculty, McDaniel said.
“Another thing that we talked about when we kicked off our virtual platform was that if there were opportunities between now and the end of the nine weeks to engage students in a safe and responsible manner, small groups for example, that we would take advantage of that opportunity,” McDaniel said.
The plan was run through the Oklahoma City County Health Department, which encouraged the incremental return in the small group format.
“There is no perfect plan, and we acknowledge that. Whatever direction we go, whenever that date is that we choose to bring groups of kids back, there’s going to be a level of concern,” McDaniel said. “What we think we need to do is put this in place and manage it and monitor it, and if we don’t get the outcomes we anticipate, then we shut it back down.”
OKCPS board members express concerns
The decision comes in spite of an initial plan not to bring OKCPS students back on an A/B schedule until after the first nine-weeks of class.
“I think the feedback I have received overwhelmingly from teachers, administrators and parents is that for those early grades in particular, the online learning has not been as beneficial or engaging as parents and teachers would like,” OKCPS board member Mann said.
One of Mann’s concerns with the initially proposed Sept. 21 start date was that a possible surge of community COVID outbreaks could mean having to transition back to online learning again at a later date. (Any OKCPS decision to transition back to virtual learning would be based off of Oklahoma’s School Safety Protocols.)
“The teachers and principals I talked to almost exclusively didn’t have a problem with going back, but they wanted another week or two under their belt with a virtual setting to get kids and teachers more familiar with it,” Mann told NonDoc. “We’re only in the third week right now. The first week was kind of a huge learning curve on the technology and getting that ironed out. Last week was the week where people were really functioning in that online setting, and they just felt like if they had another week they could get the kinks worked out to the point where, if we had to go back to that in the future, kids would be ready, they could pick up where they left off, and there wouldn’t be a learning curve.”
Assistant Superintendent of Elementary Education Jamie Polk said at Monday night’s meeting that the curriculum department has ensured that teacher preparation for what is taught remotely will also transfer to a brick-and-mortar setting and vice versa.
“We purposefully tried to ensure that those lessons were not different,” she said. “So the same prep would be for if we’re brick-and-mortar or if it’s remote.”
Polk said teachers will have teammates to collaborate with throughout the process of transitioning back to in-person classes and that this stage of the reopening model will allow Wednesdays for teachers to plan their classrooms.
“I don’t know that there would ever be a right time when we’d all be ready,” Polk said. “I’m concerned, too, but sometimes you just have to get started. You just have to do it. When we’re already starting on first base and many of our neighbors are already on third base, we can’t stay home much longer.”
McDaniels released a video detailing the decision late Tuesday afternoon.
OKCPS is one of the only districts in the metro area that is doing purely virtual learning at the moment.