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TPS Brings Back First Through Third Graders As COVID Surge Threatens Older Students' Return

Tulsa Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Deborah Gist on a Zoom call with reporters the morning of Monday, Nov. 16.

One week after welcoming kindergarten and pre-K students back to the classroom, first- through third-graders returned to Tulsa Public Schools Monday.

"We do feel confident in today's return of our first, second and third-graders to in-person learning," said TPS Superintendent Dr. Deborah Gist during an early-morning media availability held via Zoom. 

"I think that we are watching these [COVID-19] numbers to determine what our next steps are in terms of the transition of our older students, our fourth, fifth and sixth-graders, which is scheduled for the week after Thanksgiving, and I think, just generally, if we as a community do not do what we need to do to lower these numbers, then we're going to have to have a conversation just entirely about being back in-person," Gist said.

"The spike that we saw over the weekend in case counts was so dramatic that we are trying to understand from the [Tulsa Health Department] what that spike means," Gist said. "If we find out in the next few days, or hours, even, that that spike is a genuine reflection of cases in our community, then I believe that we have some very serious consideration to take about whether or not we're able to proceed into the upper grades with returning students to in-person learning."

A few hours after Gist spoke, Gov. Kevin Stitt said in a press conference at the Capitol that he would like every district in Oklahoma to return to in-person learning by January, singling out TPS.

"Unfortunately, I can not mandate every single school be back in-person," Stitt said. "About 93% of the districts across the state are in in-person school right now in some format, whether it's A/B, or it's fully in person.

"But there's some schools, Tulsa Public Schools for example, has not been back in school this entire year since last March," Stitt said. "It breaks my hearts what's happening to those kids in the Tulsa Public Schools area."

"I'm laying out the goal and the vision. I believe that every kid needs to be in school, in-person, after the holidays. That's my goal. That's the vision. And I'm going to be pressing and I'm going to be pushing and I'm going to be asking Oklahomans to help me with their local districts to require their kids be back in school," Stitt said.

Under the current TPS Board-approved schedule, following the return of fourth, fifth and sixth graders at the end of November, the remaining grade levels would return Jan. 4.

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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