More than 32,000 Tulsa Public Schools students returned to their classrooms Thursday.
The district expects every adult and student to wear a mask indoors and out when they’re around others, regardless of vaccination status, in order to limit spread of COVID-19. Speaking to reporters outside Bell Elementary during her districtwide, first-day-of-school tour, Superintendent Dr. Deborah Gist said she’s been pleased to see staff, students and parents masked up, but officials will monitor mask wearing and related legal issues.
"And we're going to do everything that we can do and everything we need to do to keep everyone well and healthy and safe and also to keep students in school. So, if we need to make an adjustment, if we find that actually, our expectation is not working and we need to shift, we will shift," Gist said.
State law prohibits public schools from requiring masks. Gist said if that law didn’t exist, TPS would require masks because they proved to be effective last school year.
The Oklahoma State Medical Association has asked a court to block enforcement of the mask requirement ban, and the Biden administration has threatened to intervene in states where officials are banning mask mandates. Some Texas school districts have made masks part of their dress codes in order to circumvent Republican Gov. Greg Abbott's executive order banning mask requirements.
While COVID is top of mind as TPS returns, Gist said she's excited about the start of another year. Gist said the district is doing things like expanding access to career tech education and developing a new strategic plan as they reach the end of "Destination Excellence."
"So, we are spending time right now engaging with Tulsans, engaging with our team and students and other community members and putting a new plan in place, a new five-year plan that will lead us into the next five years. And so, that's a body of work that I hope people will pay attention to," Gist said.
More information about the district's new strategic plan is available at tulsaschools.org.