Updated Feb. 1, 8:10 p.m.
After nearly a year of pandemic disruption, Tulsa Public Schools students at all grade levels could return to in-person instruction by the end of February according to the district's superintendent.
"Over the last month, we have seen our longest sustained decline in Tulsa-area COVID-19 rates since the pandemic began. Based on our current COVID trajectory and subject to board approval, I believe that we can bring all of our students back to in-person learning before the end of February," Dr. Deborah Gist wrote in a Monday morning letter to TPS parents and families.
At a Monday morning press conference, Gist acknowledged a significant, months-long public pressure campaign, championed by Gov. Kevin Stitt, to get the district to offer in-person learning as an option despite high levels of infection locally, but said that played no role in her suggesting an earlier return.
"This decision is not about public pressure. Because there's public pressure, people think that you're reacting to that public pressure. Quite the opposite," Gist said. "We are staying grounded in what I said in our comments is our north star, which, throughout this experience, will be: 'Follow the science, the data, the public health professionals.'"
Gist repeated her call for school faculty and support staff to be given higher priority in distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine, and characterized as "disappointing" recent remarks from the governor's office disparaging her and Tulsa's local teacher and support staff union chapters.
"When people have the vaccine, if they're exposed they do not have to quarantine," Gist said. "So asking for vaccines for educators is not just about Tulsa. It is about all of Oklahoma. It's about not just keeping our team members safe, which of course it is, but it's also about keeping our students in school."
Gist said she would present the idea to the TPS Board of Education at their meeting Monday evening, though the item is not on the agenda and as such will not come to a same-day vote.