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TPS Superintendent: Still No Mask Requirement, But District 'Strengthening' 'Mask Expectation'

Tulsa Public Schools

Tulsa Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Deborah Gist announced in a letter to district families on Thursday that in response to a troublingly high level of COVID-19 transmission in the community, school officials are pursuing "a temporary strengthening of the mask expectation we have in place throughout our district."

"It is critical that we do everything possible to keep our students and teachers together, safely, and in person in our schools, and masks are a critical way to sustain the safe, in-school learning experience that our students need and deserve," Gist said. 

Gist said by Monday, Aug. 30, the "expectation" for staff will be that every employee wear masks inside district buildings except those staff members with a "documented and approved medical exemption."

By Tuesday, Sept. 7, Gist said, the "expectation" will be that all students wear masks inside school buildings, except in cases where the student has a "documented and approved medical exemption or a district-approved exemption based on the educational or the social and emotional needs of the student."

"During the next week, we will be sharing details with our school communities regarding the specific expectations and possible exemptions regarding mask wearing," Gist said.

A district spokesperson confirmed to Public Radio Tulsa that there will be no enforcement mechanism attached to the "expectation" and the district is "not issuing a mask mandate or requirement."

Gist has said that were it not for a new state law signed by Gov. Kevin Stitt in May that outlaws school districts from requiring masks, TPS would do so, as it did last year when in session for in-person classes. Several superintendents in Oklahoma have implemented mask requirements, claiming they believe the way the law is written allows for that so long as the mandate is not imposed by the district's elected school board, but Gist has said she disagrees with that interpretation.

The letter comes the same day Oklahoma City Public Schools announced the COVID-19 death of a 13-year-old middle school student. Stitt's office did not return a request for comment about the boy's death; the governor has repeatedly said he does not want students to have to wear masks at school, despite universal masking in schools being recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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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