While students will be starting the school year with nine weeks of distance learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Tulsa Public Schools teachers are returning, or have already returned, to classrooms and school buildings to prepare for the fall term beginning next week. At a special meeting of the TPS Board of Education on Monday, administrators presented their plan to keep faculty and staff as safe as possible.
"The team has been working really, really hard to put a number of effective practices recommended both by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and the Tulsa Health Department," said Jorge Robles, TPS Chief Operating Officer.
Measures will include (but are not limited to) mandatory masking for all teachers, staff, visitors, vendors, or anyone else entering a school building; a self-screening questionnaire conducted by an app developed in partnership with Ascension - St. John; strict physical distancing measures; temperature checks at entrances; and required sign-ins for staff entering buildings that aren't their primary work locations to ensure efficient contact tracing is possible in the case of an exposure.
Robles also presented a detailed flowchart of processes in place for a variety of scenarios involving a potential exposure to COVID-19.
"So if myself, as a supervisor, one of my team members tells me that they tested positive, it guides me through: these are the steps that I need to take, who do I need to communicate [with], et cetera," Robles said.
TPS Superintendent Deborah Gist said that the administration is focused on limiting exposures, which the CDC defines in some or most cases as spending 15 minutes or more within 6 feet of another person.
"No one should be within six feet for more than 15 minutes. So in other words, there should be no exposures," Gist said. "When we have an exposure, the question is, 'Who didn't follow the protocol?'"
The administration also presented plans for when students return to school, scheduled for November at the earliest, but acknowledged that things are still open-ended and liable to change.
In a Monday letter to families, Gist and Board President Stacy Woolley wrote: "Even with this level of commitment and planning, we should expect setbacks, problems, and disappointments. Our school systems are not funded, designed, or staffed to accommodate the new demands that COVID places on us. Some aspects of our plan will struggle. Some elements of our system will falter. Unpredictable problems will emerge. We accept the difficulty of our context and persist, with a complete and unwavering commitment to serving our students and keeping our community safe."
The full 2020-2021 "Opening of Schools" plan is available here.