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Oklahoma Teachers Look for Answers to Pandemic Questions with New Year a Month Away


A month out from the first day of school, a pair of teachers turned state representatives have taken thousands of teachers’ questions about how this fall will work to the State Department of Education.

Rep. Melissa Provenzano (D-Tulsa) said federal plans aside, many Oklahoma teachers are waiting to hear from their own districts about how they'll deal with the coronavirus.

Most teachers have already started working and planning for their coming school year. And so, what we need is a comprehensive plan, and it would be nice to have the State Department of Education as well as the professional organizations that support the people that do the work come out and say, 'Here are the expectations to how to protect everyone,'" Provenzano said.

McLain High School librarian Michelle Stevenson said she’s preparing for the worst: a 100% virtual start to the year. But, she still wants a plan in place covering questions like what will happen if a teacher gets sick? Who’s responsible for disinfecting objects and areas? Will teachers and staff have to buy their own protective equipment? And should students face daily temperature screenings?

"We have to really take this seriously, and there’s a lot of complex things to consider and there are a lot of moving parts to a school. So, it’s not just as simple as, 'We’ll have the kids wash their hands and stay far apart and put masks on, and everybody will be safe," Stevenson said.

"It just kind of puts a damper on everything a little bit because the beginning of school is really exciting, for me, anyway, and now it’s a little bit lackluster because it either may not come or it may come in this virtual format or something different and it’s not the same," Stevenson said.

Rep. John Waldron (D-Tulsa) helped Provenzano get teachers' concerns to State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister. Both are teachers turned lawmakers. Waldron said if teachers just need to know what to expect.

"Teachers will do all kinds of — they’ll make all kinds of sacrifices for their students if they just know what they’re being asked to do. It’s time to ask them," Waldron said.

In a response to a letter from Provenzano, Hofmeister said a system of safety protocols that correspond with the state’s new color-coded COVID response system is in the works, but she would like to see all districts require masks for teachers and students.

Matt Trotter joined KWGS as a reporter in 2013. Before coming to Public Radio Tulsa, he was the investigative producer at KJRH. His freelance work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times and on MSNBC and CNN.
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