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TPS Board Votes to Allow Younger Students to Return to In-Person Learning in November

Chris Polansky
Tulsa Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Deborah Gist (left) speaks with Tulsa Health Department Director Dr. Bruce Dart before a Tuesday press conference at Tulsa Police headquarters.

Younger students will be allowed to return to in-person classes next month following a prolonged all-virtual start to the Tulsa Public Schools year caused by troubling local rates of transmission of the novel coronavirus.

The Tulsa Public Schools board came up with its own plan for students to come back to school. Over the course of a seven-hour meeting, they settled on pre-K and kindergarten students returning on Nov. 9 and attending Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. Wednesdays will be distance learning days.

First through third graders will return on the same schedule Nov. 16, and fourth through sixth graders at elementary schools will come back Nov. 30.

Superintendent Dr. Deborah Gist had recommended a similarly staggered return for students but in a hybrid model with two days at school. She said she’s heard from teachers concerned about coming back but believes the board’s decision can be implemented safely.

"I would also say that I’ve made a commitment to them that I would never ask them to do anything that I’m not willing to do myself. So, I will be in the classroom as well when we get going on Nov. 9," Gist said Tuesday morning.

The board chose to delay further discussion on older students returning until a meeting next week. Board member Suzanne Schreiber said the board and district officials haven’t talked through all the potential scenarios for them.

"In order to get those kids back in school, I think there needs to be more conversation amongst the board and the administration about what a model looks like for them to go back safely," Schreiber said.

TPS families who wish to continue all-virtual learning will be allowed to do so.

At a press conference Tuesday, TPS Superintendent Dr. Deborah Gist said, "We want our kids in school, we want them to be physically in school, and we want them to stay there."

At the same press conference, Tulsa Health Department Director Dr. Bruce Dart said K-12 schools are the single highest risk location for COVID-19 transmission in Tulsa County, with the most associated infections.

Gist said the district will be closely tracking its COVID cases in case it needs to intervene. TPS will provide and launder masks for students. They will be required.

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.
Chris joined Public Radio Tulsa as a news anchor and reporter in April 2020. He’s a graduate of Hunter College and the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism, both at the City University of New York.
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