Citing staffing shortages due to the worsening pandemic, sky-high rates of infection in Tulsa County and the likelihood things will get even worse after the Thanksgiving break, the Tulsa Public Schools Board of Education voted Thursday evening to postpone the return to in-person learning for 4th through 6th graders at elementary schools planned for Nov. 30.
Superintendent Dr. Deborah Gist had recommended following through with the plan.
"I want you to know, however, that I understand that there are other reasonable conclusions, and our team stands ready to implement your decisions with excellence no matter where you land," Gist said.
Gist said she believed the district could adequately keep students, families and staff safe with "little risk of COVID transmission."
Her recommendation was voted down 2-4, with board members Suzanne Schreiber and Jerry Griffin voting in support. Board member Jennettie Marshall was absent due to a health issue, but in a prepared statement said she would have voted against the recommendation for 4th through 6th graders to return.
Board President Stacey Wooley expressed considerable frustration at recent remarks by Gov. Kevin Stitt that, were it up to him, all districts in Oklahoma would be required to return to fully in-person learning by January.
"It's not right. It's not fair. And to push that down the road and to put it on volunteers is wrong. So yes, while I support our students being in school, I also fully support our governor being responsible," Wooley said. "And then we can make sure our kids are in school."
"We need help from our governor following the recommendations of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, who has been asking him for five months to implement a statewide mask mandate," Wooley said.
At a press conference Thursday, Stitt told reporters he didn't believe the White House had ever recommended such a policy, despite the fact that they have done so multiple times in writing in their weekly reports provided to him.
Currently, all TPS students at all grade levels are scheduled to be allowed to return to in-person learning on Jan. 4. Pre-K through 3rd grade students, who returned earlier this month, are still scheduled to return to classrooms following the Thanksgiving break.