The work of Tulsa Public Schools in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic and developing plans for safe instruction was recognized by the federal government Wednesday.
The district was highlighted by the U.S. Department of Education at a virtual "National Safe Schools Reopening Summit" hosted by Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, alongside school districts in New York, California and Ohio.
"We remained committed to making sure our students and our team members and all of their families were safe," said TPS Superintendent Dr. Deborah Gist, recounting past and current efforts in running a large public school district during the pandemic. "And when we described 'safe,' we meant, of course, from a COVID perspective, but we also meant emotionally safe and mentally safe and safe in many other ways."
"Throughout the pandemic, we've been committed to being data-wise and science-informed, and we've been working really closely with medical professionals and reading every study and following every release and every report, the data that was coming out both locally, nationally and internationally," Gist said.
Gist shared that Tulsa had mitigating circumstances different from many other school districts in the state, such as the fact that the district serves many communities most at-risk to severe outcomes from COVID-19.
"For us in Tulsa, where we serve primarily Latino and Black students, and where most of our students are low income, we had a particular responsibility to making sure that we were keeping our students and our team members and all of their families safe," Gist said.
Gist shared on Twitter her appreciation that "Team Tulsa's work is, once again, being recognized at the national (and international) level!"
Less enthusiastic on Twitter were several members of Gov. Kevin Stitt's staff, who used TPS's participation in the summit not as an example of Oklahoma schools being spotlighted on a national stage but as an opportunity to take potshots at the district.
"TPS getting lauded by a liberal administration who takes its cues on when to reopen schools from teachers unions is not something to crow about," wrote Carly Atchison, Stitt's director of strategic communications.
"Surely this is a typo," wrote Charlie Hannema, the governor's chief of communications, in response to a tweet announcing TPS would be featured at the summit. "Tulsa? Is there another Tulsa somewhere, or are we talking about the one in Oklahoma that was weeks behind everyone else and is hemorrhaging students?"
TPS has long been a punching bag for the governor's office during Stitt's aggressive push to compel every school district in Oklahoma to resume in-person learning regardless of local coronavirus infection rates, prompting Gist in January to question the governor's motivation.
""I'm not sure why the governor has such a fixation on Tulsa Public Schools. We are not the only district that has been in distance learning, and there are certainly plenty of things that the governor could do differently if he truly wanted our students back in person," she said.