Oklahoma’s public schools pivoting for start of academic year

In a Thursday board meeting, Edmond Public Schools became the latest Oklahoma district to alter its reopening plan for the 2020-2021 school year.

With the COVID-19 curve left unflattened, public schools across the state have made changes to try to keep students, staff and faculty safe from the virus.

Previously, EPS had announced a plan for reopening that offered options for online or in-person instruction. During Thursday’s meeting, the board voted unanimously, 5–0, to approve a new plan.

The board chose to delay a vote on a specific agenda item relating to EPS start dates due to receiving new information from an Oklahoma State Board of Education meeting that was happening concurrently.

The EPS board also unanimously approved two purchases for the school year: no-contact thermometers for teacher use in classrooms and mobile device hotspots for student use, in the case of a necessary shift back to a fully online platform.

The EPS online option, Virtual Edmond, did not guarantee a spot would be held at physical campus locations under the original plan. The latest version of the EPS opening plan changes this aspect of the transfer structure.

Additionally, grades Pre-K -12 will wear masks in hall ways during passing times. Students in grades 1-12 will wear masks at all times, unless exempt.

Students will have mask breaks to allow for designated periods without wearing masks. Special guidelines for recess are in development.

“The fact is, nothing is normal this year, to what we’re used to.” said Josh Moore, Edmond City Councilman and parent to 7 year-old twins. “We’re all just going to have to trust each other and help each other make the best decisions we can and adjust to them as we can.”

Moore and his wife both work full-time and their ability to work affects their family livelihood. However, the family’s plan must be able to adjust as quickly as the school district’s.

“Health trumps the economy, no matter what,” Moore said. “But we do think about the economy and how we can balance that safely.”

According to Moore, the key now is consistency in messaging for everyone in Edmond. With the University of Central Oklahoma, EPS and the City of Edmond government offices all having masking requirements, a city-wide ordinance makes sense.

“This is a medical issue. I don’t think it is a political issue and I don’t think it is a personal rights issue,” Moore said. “I think it’s important for our city council to support a mask mandate during this time because we know it helps.”

Oklahoma City Public Schools announced Tuesday a decision to not only delay the school year but also begin in a fully online format. This decision came as the latest adjustment to the full OKCPS plan for reopening.

Other metro area schools have released varying levels of details on their plans for returning to school for the 2020-2021 school year.

Both schools will also require face coverings. Mid-Del will be providing all students and staff with a complimentary gaiter at the start of the school year.

Yukon, Mustang, Moore, and Norman public schools will offer students the option of fully online instruction, blended learning, or in-person instruction with remote learning days.

Bethany and Crutcho public schools will offer an in-person option or fully virtual instruction.

Details for Crooked Oak, Western Heights or Millwood public schools’ plans for the upcoming school year could not be found.

The Oklahoma State Board of Education meeting, held Thursday, ended in a 4-3 vote against a required color-coded system for schools. Instead the system is now a set of recommendations, according to the OSBE.

The vote, if successful, would have established a system to provide clear mandatory direction to schools on safety policies, including masking. It also would have kept schools closed through Sept. 30.

State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister did not agree with the board’s decision.

She stated:

Today’s vote is very disappointing and one that likely will stoke more concerns for teachers, parents and families with a new school year only weeks away. We all realize how important it is for schools to reopen. But we are in the midst of a global pandemic with COVID-19 cases sharply rising in our state. I believe it entirely appropriate that the State Board establish a floor of recommended and required protocols to ensure a safer environment for all in the school community – teachers, staff and students. Now that the board has made its decision, we strongly urge districts across the state to do the right thing and demonstrate the ‘Oklahoma Standard’ by masking up and following social distancing guidelines. In the meantime, the Oklahoma State Department of Education will continue working to secure the PPE our schools need. 

Are you a UCO student who has school or daycare aged children? Have you faced issues or do you have concerns about you or your children’s return to school due to COVID-19? Reach out to us.

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