OEA, Edvocates and Other Groups Join Together to Discuss What It Will Take to Return to In-Person Teaching and Learning
A diverse group of education advocates today called on the governor, the state schools superintendent and other top-level state leaders to require the wearing of masks of everyone at school.
OEA President Alicia Priest and Jami Cole, Duncan teacher and leader of the Oklahoma Edvocates Facebook group, outlined the needs for a safe return to in-person learning. Joining the two were Clark Frailey, co-founder and executive director of Pastors for Oklahoma Kids; Mary Best, president of Oklahoma American Federation of Teachers; Dr. Dwight Sublett, president of the Oklahoma chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics; and Morgan McClellan, a student at Rattan Public Schools.
In addition to requiring masks, the group said the state must meet these standards to ensure a safe environment at school:
- Require masks for inside school activities.
- Provide schools with supplies they need, including personal protection equipment (PPE), soap, hand sanitizer, and other necessary cleaning supplies.
- Provide touchless thermometers.
- Establish protocols on when to shut down a school site or an entire school district.
- Establish protocols for quarantining after a positive test.
- Address the sheer number of students in one building at one time to allow for social distancing.
“The OEA implores Governor Stitt, State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister and State Commissioner of Health Col. Lance Frye to stop pushing decisions down to the school district level when districts do not employ public health experts and epidemiologists to help them make these decisions,” Priest said. “We need our state leaders to set clear guidelines of what is expected within our schools, rather than a patchwork of conflicting policies from one district to the next.”
Teachers and staff start reporting for the 2020-21 school year in the next two to three weeks. While schools are making plans for how to open, the number of Oklahomans diagnosed with COVID-19 continues to spike.
Priest emphasized that the state needs to adopt clear and strong policies to protect the health and safety of all students and education employees to safely resume classes next month.
“These policies must include requiring masks to be worn by students and teachers, staggering student attendance to a level that allows for social distancing at every moment of the school day, guidance for what should occur when a student or teacher tests positive, and leave policies that allow for students and staff to stay home when they need to quarantine,” she said.
Cole said that everyone — students, parents, teachers, support professionals and administrators — want school to resume as close to normal as soon as possible.
“This discussion is not about partisan politics or denying individual freedoms,” Cole said. “It’s quite simply about the health and safety of our children and the education professionals who work with them every day.”
Oklahoma Children at Risk
Oklahoma public schools serve 703,654 students, according to the Oklahoma State Department of Education. Thousands have underlying health conditions that put them at higher risk of complications from COVID-19:
- About 1 in 5 children are obese, according to the CDC. That’s about 140,700 Oklahoma students.
- About 1 in 12 children have asthma, according to the CDC. That’s about 58,600 Oklahoma students.
- About 1 in 400 children have diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association. That’s about 1,800 Oklahoma students.
- About 1 in 14 children live with seniors, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. That’s about 51,400 Oklahoma students.