OEA responds to Governor Stitt

OEA commends the governor for announcing on Thursday that school employees would be moved up to the phase two category for the COVID-19 vaccine.

We are also happy the governor agrees the best learning for children happens inside public school buildings and they provide vital community resources.

Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt

“Today’s announcement is good news. But nothing changes until those vaccines are administered, and that’s still weeks away,” said OEA President Alicia Priest in a statement released to the media on Thursday.

In the same press conference where Governor Stitt announced educators ascension to phase two, he also said he wants all schools to offer in-person learning in January. At one point, he threatened that his appointed state school board could “supersede” local school boards to force this.

“Opening schools is just a soundbite until our leaders do whatever it takes to limit community spread,” Priest continued in her statement, “What our students need are lasting solutions.”

Every school district in Oklahoma has attempted in-school learning. Districts decisions to move to blended or remote learning were made by locally elected school boards due to the spread of the virus within their communities. The governor’s call for every school to return to normal is confusing after he has previously preached local control in regards to a mask mandate, which experts at the Center for Disease Control and the White House Coronavirus Task Force say would have slowed community spread.

Everyone wants to return to normal, but those with the power to make a difference in mitigating the damage of this pandemic in Oklahoma must act. We must make sacrifices and we must listen to the scientific experts at places like the CDC or OU Health.

The governor cited the CDC in saying that schools were “the safest place for students.” However, that is only a partial truth and only for communities not experiencing rapid rates of infection.

“If you live in an area where the level of community spread is considered high-risk, we know that for students in those red school zones there are more cases per 1,000 students who go to full-time in-person school than those who use the hybrid model,” according to OU Health Children’s Hospital infectious disease expert Dr. Donna Tyungu.

“If your county is green, yellow, or orange-1, in-person school seems to be protected. The cases in students are much lower where the counties are not in red… Yet, once your community spread gets to red, that all changes.”

Every single county but three are in the red.

Dr. Tyungu also explained that adults in schools are 10 times more likely to test positive than children. An OEA survey found that 11.7% of educators who responded had tested positive for COVID-19.

According to Dr. Tyungu, the physician rate is around 12%.

“It becomes a risky proposition for staff,” said Dr. Chris Aston, Associate Research Professor of Pediatrics at OU Health.

Our educators are on the front lines of this pandemic and elected officials should do everything in their power to control community spread, so that our state is safe enough to return.

Earlier this week, Governor Stitt released a video that included quotes specifically blaming OEA and its educators for the state’s current condition.

Educators gave their leadership a chance to control community spread, take the virus seriously, and make it so we could all return to normal school safely. And they were failed by their leadership.

We are already amidst a massive teacher shortage. Oklahoma was adding over 3,000 emergency certified teachers per year before this pandemic. After this year, even more are being pushed to the point of choosing to leave the profession early.

Educators need our support. Anyone blaming them for Oklahomans feeling unsafe is not helpful. We are ready to work together. We’re trying to go back safely, but our leadership is not working with us to find solutions. 

OEA is not just one person. We are teachers. We are bus drivers. We are cafeteria workers. We are parents. We have lost members of our family and our colleagues.

“This school year has been hard on students, families, and educators. Working through this pandemic is going to take all of us,” said Priest.

“It’s going to take leaders who will unite everyone — not pick fights.”

The enemy is the virus. Not educators.