In a 5-0 vote, the Broken Arrow Public Schools Board of Education voted on Wednesday to accept the district administration's plan to move forward with a return to in-person learning for the upcoming fall semester beginning Aug. 19th.
The plan calls for mandatory face coverings for all students in 3rd grade and higher. Schools will base their level of restrictions on weekly data from the Oklahoma State Department of Health, solely for areas covered by the district. It will not consider the rate of spread or other metrics in Tulsa or Wagoner Counties. Individual schools would shut down if infections were confirmed in 30% of classrooms.
"This is the best plan today that we have," Superintendent Janet Vinson said. "Everyone claims to be an expert. There's no experts in coronavirus."
Karla Dyess, an associate superintendent, said efforts will be made to space desks apart as recommended by public health experts.
"We're going to separate those desks as much as possible. We know that they are not going to be as far apart as everyone would like," Dyess said.
Families who are not comfortable with sending their children back for face-to-face learning in classrooms will have the option to enroll them in an all-virtual alternative. The deadline to make that choice is Aug. 5th.
Multiple board members expressed that the mask requirement should not be enforced "punitively."
"Parents are going to have their varying opinions, or whatever, as I sit here without one. I don't need to defend myself or explain myself, and I think that's the same thing for a teacher or a child as well, because no one knows what anyone's personal situation is," said board president Steve Allen.
"I think it's important that policing masks isn't our number one priority," Allen said. "Our priority is educating and keeping kids here, and doing the best we can to keep them safe."
Allen repeatedly said he believes in-person instruction is necessary, because of the possibility of suicide and abuse for children stuck at home.
"We've got to open. And we've got to do the best we can to stay open. There's a lot of kids that are depending on us that otherwise may die from something other than COVID, and their health is just as important as any other student's," Allen said.
Other local districts currently planning on a return to some kind of in-person instruction are Bixby and Union. The Tulsa Public Schools board is set to vote on Aug. 3rd on a recommendation from Superintendent Deborah Gist for an all-virtual start. Oklahoma City Public Schools has already announced it will not hold in-person classes until November at the earliest.