TPS Superintendent 'Hopeful' In-Person Return Date Can Be Moved Up

Jan 26, 2021

Tulsa Public Schools students could return to their classrooms sooner than planned.

"I feel very hopeful that we can return our students to in-person learning at a date that's earlier than the one that we currently have, and I know that the members of the board would want that as well as soon as we are able to," TPS Superintendent Dr. Deborah Gist said at a Monday meeting of the TPS Board of Education.

TPS Chief Operating Officer Jorge Robles highlighted that the seven-day rolling average over the last week has "decreased significantly" on both the local and state levels, and that the district has vaccinated 294 staff members 65 and older through a partnership with the Tulsa Health Department.

Gist said she would prefer more vaccines for more staff members be made available more rapidly.

"Oklahoma has not prioritized educators in the way that many states across the country have done, and it is a challenge for us because we have not been able to prioritize some members of our team who, if we could, would have prioritized at the beginning," Gist said.

Still, Gist credits the vaccination efforts that have been undertaken as one of the factors influencing her optimism for a quicker return to in-person learning.

"These efforts, both the efforts of the team, lots of them, but including the work around vaccinations in our collaboration with the Tulsa Health Department, but I would also say the work of the community," Gist said. "Seeing those numbers decline is just incredibly encouraging."

Under the current plan, TPS students at all grade levels are due to return to in-person learning on March 22nd. Board member Dr. Jerry Griffin requested Monday that that date be reevaluated at the board's next meeting, scheduled for Monday.

TPS has been repeatedly singled out by Gov. Kevin Stitt in his push for all Oklahoma school districts to offer an in-person learning option regardless of how severe COVID transmission rates are in the local community. Earlier this month, Gist accused Stitt of "pointing fingers" and "magical thinking" in his focus on criticizing TPS, saying that "there are certainly plenty of things that the governor could do differently if he truly wanted our students back in person."