Tulsa Public Schools on Tuesday began its latest attempt to return to -- and stay in -- in-person learning amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
"This is what we have wanted, what we began transitioning to do in our second quarter but unfortunately the surge resulted in our having to revert back to distance learning," TPS Superintendent Dr. Deborah Gist told reporters on an early morning virtual press call before the first bell rang. "And so now Tulsans have all done their part and we are here at this moment and anticipate, as a system, being able to stay in in-person learning, even though we want folks to be prepared because there may be moments, as there have been all in the area and throughout the country, where a school or a classroom may need to go into distance learning temporarily."
Gist said at least 10% of the student body has chosen to remain in virtual learning, and that families of color have been more likely to choose to do so.
"We're keeping an eye on that, because we want to make sure we're providing appropriate educational supports to all our students," Gist said.
Families will have opportunities to switch learning modes in the weeks and months to come, Gist said.
The district issued a news release Monday stressing the need for substitute teachers and announcing an increase in daily compensation for substitutes. Gist said Tuesday those hired as substitutes would also become eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine under the state's expansion of eligibility to all pre-K-12 teachers and staff.
“We faced substitute teacher shortages long before the pandemic, and we are facing them even more significantly now,” Gist said. “Staffing capacity is a key factor for keeping students in classrooms during the COVID-19 pandemic, and we want to ensure that our classrooms will have coverage if they are not able to come to school in-person.”
“Since September I have personally heard from many families - moms, dads and guardians - who said they would jump in to substitute if it meant helping to keep consistency for our students,” said TPS Board President Stacey Woolley in a statement. “I, personally, am volunteering my time as a substitute because I know it is critical and the benefits immeasurable. I ask that all Tulsans consider contributing one day a week in order to help keep our students safe and in the classroom by signing up to be a substitute. Simply put, we won’t be able to do it without you!”