A coalition of child advocates, education groups and medical associations wants a statewide mask rule for in-school learning.
The Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy, Oklahoma Education Association, Oklahoma PTA, the Oklahoma State Medical Association, the Oklahoma Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics and two superintendents participated in a virtual news conference on Thursday to announce their joint effort as "Masks Are Saving Kids," or MASK.
In July, the State Board of Education approved a set of COVID protocols for schools proposed by State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister after reducing any requirements in them to just recommendations, including for wearing masks. One in five school districts currently has no mask policy.
OEA President Alicia Priest said teachers are ready to get back to their students, but they’re anxious.
"We want to work. We want to be safe. We are asking the Oklahoma State Board of Education to require masks in schools during in-person learning," Priest said.
Millwood Public Schools Superintendent Cecilia Robinson-Woods is on the board overseeing Oklahoma school sports, which passed on a mask requirement of its own. She said there have been a lot of games canceled and seasons pushed back since then.
"We’ll be playing football almost ‘til Christmas this year because of the amount of schools that are having to cancel due to just quarantines, honestly, in their communities from COVID-related illnesses," Robinson-Woods said.
OICA CEO Joe Dorman said the protection masks offer would extend beyond the classroom.
"Oklahoma ranks ninth in the nation for grandparents raising grandkids, the category we would all agree is most at risk," Dorman said.
Santa Fe South Public Schools Superintendent Chris Brewster said his district is among the 80% that requires masks, but a statewide policy would ensure all kids get similar opportunities this year. He also wishes all adults in the state would wear a mask.
"I just don’t get it, and I would argue all day long with anyone that this — if they care for children in Oklahoma, wear a stinking mask," Brewster said.
The State Board of Education meets next Thursday. Its October meeting was canceled because of technical difficulties with the live stream.