oklahoma schools

Updated Jan. 15, 4:40 p.m.  

Tulsa Public Schools students will not start returning to school later this month as planned.

The TPS Board voted 4–3 in a special meeting Friday to keep students on distance learning until March 22, citing local COVID numbers and a recommendation by Tulsa Health Department Executive Director Dr. Bruce Dart.

Board members John Croisant, Jerry Griffin and Jennettie Marshall voted against moving back students' return. Members Shawna Keller, Suzanne Schreiber, Jania Wester and Stacey Woolley voted for it.

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Insisting on in-person options statewide, Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt announced a new policy Tuesday aimed at reducing school quarantines for COVID-19.

"Students and teachers exposed to someone who tests positive for COVID-19 in school will no longer be required to quarantine as long as the exposure happened in a classroom setting [and] everyone was wearing masks and following other appropriate protocols, like social distancing," said State Health Commissioner Dr. Lance Frye.

Oklahoma educators responding to a survey said they’re worried about their students' academic progress and well-being, worried about their health, and worried the worst of the pandemic is yet to come.

Most of the more than 3,100 responses to the Oklahoma Education Association’s pandemic survey came from classroom teachers on the job more than five years. Just 4% believed the worst of the pandemic is behind them.

There will be no Oklahoma School report cards for the current year.

The State Board of Education voted unanimously on Thursday to suspend them for one year because of upheaval caused by the coronavirus pandemic. State testing factors heavily into the A–F report cards and is set to go on, but all of the data that goes into them will somehow be affected.

Deputy Superintendent of Assessment and Accountability Maria Harris told the board, for example, students didn’t test last year because of a federal waiver. Now, there’s no way to measure academic growth over the past year.

Gov. Kevin Stitt will announce on Thursday new measures aimed at getting kids back in school.

Stitt said they were coming at a news conference announcing the COVID-19 vaccine’s arrival in southwest Oklahoma Wednesday afternoon.

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Opposition to Oklahoma’s first-in-the-nation, temporary in-school quarantine program is growing.

Democratic lawmakers and the 40,000-member Oklahoma Education Association have put out statements against the proposal to let students exposed to someone with COVID-19 at school spend their two-week quarantine in school but segregated from other students and subject to frequent testing.

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While state testing for the current year is on for now, its impact on Oklahoma school report cards is up in the air.

Deputy Superintendent of Assessment and Accountability Maria Harris said in a statewide COVID update last week while the Oklahoma State Department of Education wants data from testing, they know it will not be as reliable because of the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.

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Despite Gov. Kevin Stitt telling schools he wants all students back in their classrooms after winter break, teachers are in the third of four phases in Oklahoma’s COVID-19 vaccination plan.

Many education officials expected they would be a higher priority, considering the push to have all kids back in school as soon as possible. State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister told district officials in a coronavirus update last week that nearly 70% of the state’s then-almost 30,000 active cases were among kids 5 to 17 years old.

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Starting Monday, the Oklahoma State Department of Health will allow 14-day, in-school quarantines for students potentially exposed to the coronavirus at school.

The agency released guidelines on Wednesday for the temporary program, which will let students participate in distance learning under supervision and with better access to technology and nutrition resources.

Quarantined students are to be kept separate from other students, masked and distanced from each other at all times.

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Oklahoma’s state testing window for the current school year will start two weeks sooner and end one week later than originally planned.

The State Board of Education on Thursday approved changing the initially planned window of April 20 through May 17. Math, English language and science assessments in grades three through eight can now be started any time between April 6 and May 24.

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The Oklahoma State Department of Health may let schools get more involved in tracing their COVID cases.

Interim State Epidemiologist Jared Taylor said outside of Tulsa and Oklahoma counties, the state health department has been doing the heavy lifting, but schools have said the agency is being too "forceful."

The Oklahoma State Department of Education will ask lawmakers for just under $3.2 billion for fiscal year 2022. 

State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister said the agency is obligated to make a budget request that accurately reflects the needs of students, but the state’s finances are a factor.

"We actually are asking for not even what we asked for last year, but less," Hofmeister said.

The education request represents a total increase of almost $191 million from this year’s appropriation but is about $107 million less than the agency’s last budget request.

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Several Oklahoma House Democrats requested a legal opinion Monday on Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt’s decision to spend federal coronavirus relief funds to send students to private schools.

Members of the House Democratic Education Policy Group requested a formal opinion from state Attorney General Mike Hunter.

Stitt faced criticism in July when he announced his plan to spend $10 million from the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund to allow Oklahoma families to access $6,500 in funds for private-school tuition.

Owasso Public Schools is the latest district to pull the plug on distance learning ahead of schedule.

The district announced Friday students will return to the classroom Sept. 17.

Officials decided last month to start the year with at-home learning until Tulsa County spent two consecutive weeks at yellow or green on a color-coded alert system. That has not happened yet.

Jenks Public Schools students are going back to school next week.

Yes, they started the year Aug. 24 in distance learning, but in an email to parents, administrators said students will come back in person on Sept. 10. They cite a decline in COVID-19 cases in Tulsa County.

The original trigger set for an in-person return was moving from orange to yellow in the state’s COVID Alert System. That hasn’t happened yet, but they  said cases are "substantially lower" than when they decided on distance learning to start the year a month ago.

U.S. Department of Agriculture

The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Monday extended school nutrition waivers, allowing districts to continue practices like feeding kids whether they’re enrolled or not through the end of 2020.

The extension makes it easier for schools to get meals to kids who are on a distance learning plan and track them for reimbursement. Hunger Free Oklahoma Executive Director Chris Bernard said it also makes things easier on families.

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Several school districts in northeastern Oklahoma have announced closures due to the coronavirus.

Tahlequah Public Schools closed Monday and Tuesday "out of respect" for a high school teacher with COVID who died of a heart attack.

Vinita High School closed Monday morning and students were sent home after a student tested positive.

Beggs Public Schools has turned to distance learning after several students and employees tested positive for the coronavirus.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The state health department wants to make it to almost all of Oklahoma’s 547 school districts over the next three weeks to offer COVID tests to teachers and support staff.

The health department aims to visit larger districts twice in the next 30 days.

Gov. Kevin Stitt announced an optional, monthly testing program for teachers and support staff in late July.

Oklahoma Watch

While all but one county in Oklahoma meet the threshold of new coronavirus infections for school masking policies, 35% of districts have no mask requirement in place, according to a survey by the State Department of Education.

In approving the department’s COVID safety protocols last month, the State Board of Education cut requirements down to recommendations, including those for masks for students, teachers and staff. State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister said the lack of mask requirements is still concerning.

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The sudden shift to distance learning in the spring was especially difficult for Tulsa’s low-income families.

A team of researchers already following kids from age 3 through fourth grade decided to survey parents and teachers after the sudden shift to distance learning in the spring. Almost 60% of parents reported lost household income, and 46% said they lost a job or had hours cut.

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Bixby Public Schools started the school year on Monday with only half its students in buildings at a time — and with half a dozen teachers out due to the coronavirus.

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There are still some wrinkles to iron out when it comes to school meals as Oklahoma students prepare to head back — or, in some cases, already have returned to learning.

Districts across the state are offering a variety of options, including entirely virtual attendance, either because officials are offering it for families not comfortable sending their kids to school or because they don’t believe it’s the right time for any students to return in person. The federal government has not advised whether schools must feed virtual students.

Fall high school sports in Oklahoma will continue as planned.

The Oklahoma Secondary Schools Activities Association board took no action during a virtual meeting Wednesday to alter schedules for football, fast-pitch softball and other sports. OSSAA Executive Director David Jackson said a survey of member schools overwhelmingly showed they wanted to forge ahead, though he pointed out the numbers of COVID cases and deaths in the state have not significantly improved.

The start date for Broken Arrow Public Schools has been pushed back from Aug. 19 to Sept. 3 as district officials keep an eye on local coronavirus infection rates and other data.

Pre-K's start has been delayed from Aug. 21 to Sept. 8.

Oklahoma will spend $10 million from its federal coronavirus funds to buy personal protective equipment for distribution to schools.

That includes enough masks for every student and teacher to have two, as well as face shields, gloves and gowns for school personnel. The equipment will be sent to regional warehouses for distribution with a goal of delivering it by Aug. 14.

Rep. Sherrie Conley (R-Newcastle), a 26-year educator, said students belong back in schools, and not just because in-person instruction is superior.

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Two physicians groups say under current conditions, they can’t support a statewide return to in-person learning next month at Oklahoma’s K–12 schools, but they do have recommendations for reopening.

The Oklahoma Academy of Family Physicians and the Oklahoma Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics say there’s too much variation in how the coronavirus is spreading in the state.

Oklahoma Watch

Oklahoma schools will not be required by the state to institute any specific COVID safety protocols if the pandemic worsens after kids return to school.

On a 4–3 vote Thursday, the Oklahoma State Board of Education approved a motion to reduce any requirements in a proposed set of COVID safety protocols to recommendations.

Oklahoma Watch

The Oklahoma State Department of Education is preparing teachers for a demanding yet uncertain 2020-2021.

During the agency’s annual summer conference, Executive Director of School Design and Innovation Aaron Espolt shared results of a national survey showing only about one in three parents is at all likely to expect less from their students this year after last school year was upended by the coronavirus pandemic, and nearly three in four are confident their kids will be prepared for college, an increase from last year.

Oklahoma Watch

Some of Tulsa County’s $114 million in federal coronavirus relief funds may go toward getting personal protective equipment to area school districts before students and teachers potentially return to classrooms next month.

"We think that it’s of vital importance to make sure that we’re allowing for them to have to proper equipment they need to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 heading into the fall," said Tulsa Area Emergency Manager Joe Kralicek.

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A month out from the first day of school, a pair of teachers turned state representatives have taken thousands of teachers’ questions about how this fall will work to the State Department of Education.

Rep. Melissa Provenzano (D-Tulsa) said federal plans aside, many Oklahoma teachers are waiting to hear from their own districts about how they'll deal with the coronavirus.

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