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Tulsa Public Schools Officials Can't Require But Do 'Expect' Universal Masking

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Tulsa Public Schools
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Tulsa Public Schools officials say that while they recognize they're legally prohibited from requiring masks for students, faculty and staff when the school year begins this month, they do 'expect' individuals to follow federal and expert guidance to keep each other safe.

"Our expectation is that every adult and student - regardless of vaccination status -  wears a mask at all times indoors and outdoors when in the presence of others," Superintendent Dr. Deborah Gist wrote in a letter to TPS families. 

The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention both urge all individuals 2 and older to wear masks in school buildings when schools return. The Oklahoma legislature passed and Gov. Kevin Stitt signed a law in May forbidding schools from mandating masks without an emergency declaration from the governor, which Stitt has said he has no plans to issue.

Gist noted that a mask requirement will be enforced on school buses under the federal rules surrounding mask usage on public transportation. The district also plans to continue quarantine, contact tracing and notification processes for infected individuals and will offer on-site rapid testing.

"We will continue to support, encourage and recommend that all of our children 12-and-plus and all of our adults on Team Tulsa get vaccinated," TPS Chief Operations Officer Jorge Robles told the district's board of education on Monday.

TPS is scheduled to welcome some students back on Monday for orientations, with the first day of school scheduled for Thursday, Aug. 19.

Tulsa Health Department executive director Dr. Bruce Dart told the board he endorsed the CDC's recommendation for universal masking, and said that there were no pediatric ICU beds available in Tulsa area hospitals on Monday due to both COVID and RSV infections.

"In all honesty, the Delta variant is COVID on steroids," Dart said, noting that younger people are getting sick and being hospitalized at a higher rate than earlier in the pandemic. "It's having a much more negative effect on our younger populations."

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