Superintendent Deborah Gist of Tulsa Public Schools presented a recommendation to the district's board of education on Monday that schools offer no in-person instruction when they begin next month, due to the level of safety and the rate of coronavirus spread locally.
"Based on our work with the health professionals, based on everything that we've read about what is safe to do right now under the numbers that we have in place in Tulsa County -- and in Tulsa specifically, which is even higher than the county -- it is not safe for us to have groups of people in rooms together for entire daylong periods of time, even with masks on," Gist said.
"We have a number of people, teachers and parents, who want to be back 100% in-person, and I said that we want that too. That's one of the reasons why all of this has been so excruciating," Gist said. "We know it's best for our kids to be back in school. We know that's where they're going to learn best."
Board member John Croisant said he's heard from business leaders that they're worried about the impact of children being at home on productivity.
"It's hard to work from home in an environment with eight kids running around," Croisant said. "It's not going to be easy for anybody."
"I know the business community will step up and support... every way they can as soon as we really solidify what we're doing," board member Suzanne Schreiber said.
Board member Jerry Griffin, claiming to speak for some parents he's heard from, pushed back on the idea of going that virtual learning is without risk and demanded data to make his decision.
"If we go 100% virtual, somebody at home is going to get COVID. Staying home doesn't eliminate the fact that somebody in our school system is going to get COVID," Griffin said. "So what is the risk -- quantifiable, not the word 'safe?'"
"I guess my question to you would be, how many, for this modeling, if you could let me know the number of people getting COVID, or the number of deaths that would be acceptable, I could work that into the modeling itself and bring that back to you," Gist said.
Griffin refused to answer Gist's question, saying "That sounds like something an attorney would ask: 'Have you quit beating your wife?' So that's kind of not an acceptable question. You bring the model then I'll make the decision of what's acceptable."
The board is scheduled to vote on the final plan for the fast-approaching fall semester at a meeting on Monday. Oklahoma City Public Schools has already voted to hold no in-person classes until November at the earliest.
Last week, the State Board of Education voted against issuing any required policies to school districts for reopening during the pandemic, leaving those decisions solely up to local officials.