A new state policy that gives school districts the option not to require students to quarantine if they’ve been exposed to someone with COVID-19 — as long as their school district is enforcing a masking policy and other preventative measures — was met with criticism by school leaders.
Catch up on that and a packed week of education news with this collection of headlines from reporters around Oklahoma.
New policy seeks to incentivize schools to offer in-person options
On Tuesday, Gov. Kevin Stitt announced a new policy from the Oklahoma State Department of Health that would gives districts the option to allow asymptomatic students exposed to someone positive for COVID-19 not to have to quarantine if their school is enforcing a mask policy and protocols like social distancing.
NonDoc reported that Stitt also announced increased delivery of COVID-19 tests to school districts, increased delivery of personal protective equipment to school districts and the start of vaccinations of teachers age 65+ this week.
Oklahoma Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister, the Oklahoma Education Association and the Oklahoma City American Federation of Teachers released statements late Tuesday expressing displeasure with the governor’s announcement.
KOCO’s Patrina Adger reported that the State Department of Education wasn’t consulted about the new quarantine guidelines and was caught off guard when Stitt announced the policy.
Many school districts won’t adopt new quarantine policy
The Oklahoman’s Nuria Martinez-Keel reported that multiple school districts will not be adopting the new quarantine policy option announced by Gov. Kevin Stitt and the Oklahoma State Department of Health.
Districts that will continue to follow their current guidelines include Oklahoma City, Norman, Midwest City-Del City and Mustang Public Schools.
Districts that will not consider this change to their quarantine policy until they’ve had the opportunity to personally review the Oklahoma State Department of Health’s guidelines include Edmond, Stillwater, Owasso, Yukon and Broken Arrow Public Schools.
Within hours, @OKCPS, @TulsaSchools, @EdmondSchools and @MustangSchools announce they will not adopt the state’s new guidelines allowing quarantines to be waived for students and staff exposed to COVID at schools. Lots of “thanks but no thanks” energy.
— Nuria Martinez-Keel (@NuriaMKeel) January 13, 2021
Stitt stands by new quarantine policy despite criticism
Gov. Kevin Stitt’s office released a statement Thursday afternoon in defense of the new quarantine guidelines for schools.
“It’s disappointing to see the lengths some will go to in order to stand in the way of Gov. Stitt putting students first and ensuring all Oklahoma children have the option to choose in-person learning,” chief of communications Charlie Hannema said in the statement. “While clinging to vague references to CDC guidelines, they conveniently ignore that the CDC has said schools can reopen safely and responsibly and the CDC’s recent study that found counties with in-person learning actually had fewer cases than counties where students were denied the choice to return to their classrooms.”
The Tulsa World’s Andrea Eger reported that Stitt cited a recent American Academy of Pediatrics study in North Carolina that found low transmission rates in the schools to back up the new policy as well as getting students back in the classroom in-person.
However, on Thursday the Oklahoma Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Oklahoma State Medical Association and the Oklahoma Academy of Family Physicians criticized Stitt’s description of the study, as Oklahoma has different factors to consider such as a lack of a state-mandated COVID mitigation efforts.
Tulsa Public Schools leaders defend pandemic decision making
At an annual meeting between the Tulsa Public Schools Board of Education, area legislators and Sen. John Haste (R-Broken Arrow) on Friday, Haste said that keeping school buildings closed owing to COVID-19 is driving more students out of the district.
The Tulsa World’s Andrea Eger reported that Board members defended the decisions the district has made surrounding COVID-19, citing the following of recommendations from federal and local public health authorities.
At another meeting Friday, the board voted to push back their return to in-person learning from the projected Jan. 25 to March 22.
Many Oklahoma districts see reductions in midyear state aid allocations
The Tulsa World’s Andrea Eger reported that public school enrollment shifts to virtual charter schools, such as Epic Charter Schools, owing to COVID-19 has resulted in reductions of state aid allocations to many districts.
Administrators at Bixby, Owasso, Tulsa and Broken Arrow Public Schools said they anticipated reductions in state funding at this point while budgeting for FY 2021, but the midyear adjustment reductions were twice as bad as their own worst-case estimates.
About 500 of Oklahoma’s 509 school districts and 31 charter schools saw reductions in state aid, while Epic will receive an additional $156 million in funding.
First Tulsa Public Schools employee receives COVID-19 vaccine
The first Tulsa Public Schools employees received COVID-19 vaccinations this week through the district, Tulsa Health Department and Oklahoma Caring Van Programs coordination.
The Tulsa World’s Kelsy Schlotthauer reported that Wednesday was the first day for the vaccine distribution open to nurses, health assistants and employees ages 65+.
The district will have vaccination sites offered to this group of employees twice a week for the text two weeks to complete the first round of vaccinations.
Parents want hold on standardized testing
A group of parents are pushing to put standardized testing this year on hold owing to the COVID-19 pandemic.
KFOR’s Jessica Bruno reported the group is trying to opt out of the testing through a form citing Oklahoma Title 25-2002, which discusses the rights of parents to make decisions for their children without obstruction or interference from the state, including the right to direct the education of the child.
Secretary of Education Ryan Walters was asked during a press conference this week if putting standardized testing on hold for the school year would be considered.
“The testing at the end of the semester is going to be very important. We have to know where our students are. That’s not meant as anything that’s punitive to the schools, but we got to know where the kids are,” Walters said.
OKCPS plans to move forward with in-person learning
During Monday night’s Oklahoma City Public Schools board meeting, Superintendent Sean McDaniel said the district will move forward with plans to bring pre-K through fourth grades back to in-person learning with an A/B schedule on Tuesday, Jan. 19.
Special education students along with alternative education students will return to in-person learning at this time as well.
McDaniel said the district will refrain from making a final decision on bringing fifth through 12th grades back to the classroom with an alternating schedule on the projected Feb. 1 until closer to the end of the month.
It was also announced that the application window to apply for OKCPS application schools is open through March 5. The tuition-free schools with selective admission requirements include: Belle Isle Enterprise Middle School, Classen School For Advanced Studies Middle School, Classen School for Advanced Studies High School at Northeast, Southeast Middle School and Southeast High School.
COVID-19 creates challenges for immersion learning in Oklahoma
StateImpact’s Robby Korth and Lenzy Krehbiel-Burton reported on the challenges language immersion schools in Oklahoma are facing owing to the COVID-19 pandemic and distance learning.
The Osage Nation’s immersion school, Daposka Ahnkodapi, is one of these schools, starting the year with in-person instruction and transitioning to distance learning during the fall semester.
Indigenous language-learning students aren’t the only ones who have seen adjustments to language learning.
— Catherine Sweeney (@CathJSweeney) January 14, 2021
Teachers talk U.S. Capitol riot with #oklaed students
Are you curious about how teachers in Oklahoma are discussing the riot at the U.S. Capitol with their students?
NonDoc spoke with AP government teachers at Duncan High School in southwest Oklahoma and Harding Charter Preparatory High School in Oklahoma City about how the conversations went in their classrooms.
Oklahoma Education tweets of the week
I just want to point something out that I think most folks are missing in the debate about in-person schooling in #oklaed. Pretty much everyone in the discussion agrees in-person is better and wants to do it. It's how we get there where the disagreement lies.
— Robby Korth (@RobbyKorth) January 15, 2021
— Ashley Holden News 9 (@ashleyvholden) January 14, 2021
— Robby Korth (@RobbyKorth) January 13, 2021
AAP’s Oklahoma chapter responds to @GovStitt ‘s new school quarantine policy, stating the study he referenced doesn’t apply b/c of the current COVID surge in Oklahoma. A statewide mask mandate and other mitigation strategies are needed, they say. pic.twitter.com/YG6UemFP3y
— Jennifer Palmer (@jpalmerOKC) January 14, 2021