As COVID-19 numbers have continued climbing to historic highs, Tulsa Public Schools welcomed back kindergarten and pre-kindergarten students as the first grade levels to return to in-person classes following an all-remote start to the school year.
"I get really alarmed when I see those numbers increasing," said TPS Superintendent Dr. Deborah Gist on a Zoom call with media early Monday. "I also get frustrated because I know we have the ability to keep these numbers down."
"At the same time, I feel confident about the decision that we've made here in Tulsa to return our students [from] distance learning in a gradual transition starting with our pre-K and kindergarten students today," Gist said.
Gist said Tulsa Health Department Dr. Bruce Dart told her schools in Tulsa County communities with high rates of virus spread aren't seeing the increases linked to school settings.
TPS will require masks for all students from the time they board school buses or enter school buildings. Staff will also be required to wear masks. Other measures include temperature checks for adults, daily health questionnaires for parents to screen their children before sending them to school and increased sanitization.
In a media release, TPS says they will "continue to make decisions based on science, data, and the advice of health experts. We are considering a number of factors that could potentially trigger a Board discussion around changes to the mode of learning. Those considerations include (but are not limited to) district and county 7-day rolling averages, availability of PPE, rates of quarantine and staffing capacity, and hospitalizations rates."
Gist said Monday the district is already seeing some staffing challenges, and that their available pool of substitute teachers is aroung 25% of normal. Gist said she and other administrators will step in to substitute teach themselves if needed.
Students in grades 1-3 are due to return Nov. 16. Students in grades 4 and 5 (and 6th graders who attend elementary school) are scheduled to return Nov. 30. All remaining students are due back on Jan. 4.