Oklahoma School Districts Planning For 'Distance Learning'
TULSA, Oklahoma - Oklahoma school districts have about two weeks to come up with a game plan to finish the school year from home after the State Board of Education voted in favor of keeping school buildings closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Distance learning begins statewide on April 6th. For many, that means moving classes online.
Bigger districts like Jenks, Union and Tulsa Public Schools already offer electronic devices for many students, but not everyone has access to internet at home.
Rural districts like Cleveland and Beggs are left wondering if students will be sitting in parking lots outside of buildings that have free WiFi, so they can learn online.
"Many people automatically assume that means online. But we're forgetting about our most vulnerable students who don't have that access. Although this is a very difficult decision to make, health is the top priority," State Board Member Carlisha Williams Bradley said.
The Oklahoma Educational Television Authority, or OETA, is working to finalize a plan with the State Department of Education to broadcast something for students during this time. Details on what that will look like were not available Wednesday, a representative for OETA said on the phone.
TPS said it is having conversations with school districts in other states like Texas, Florida, Kansas and Nebraska about the challenges of their first week away from the classroom.
"It's not gonna be super smooth, I think is the way to summarize what we've heard from some of the very best districts in the country and what they've done. It's been challenging. That's one of the main messages that we've heard from them is be prepared to solve a lot of problems,” TPS Superintendent Dr. Deborah Gist said in a video conference call with reporters Wednesday.
In the first-ever virtual meeting for the State Board of Education, members talked about many issues, including internet concerns, but are confident learning will continue despite the hurdles ahead.
"We do not expect a district to simply say, 'Well this is too much for us to consider and we're going to simply say we are done.' That's unacceptable. We are here to help. And we are here to identify needs, identify hurdles, and get past those,” State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister said during the meeting.
The board said each district can decide whether the school year needs to be extended into the summer and said there is no hard stop for when the school year has to end.
TPS said COX is providing free internet to families for 60 days, but that families need to reach out to the company directly for information.
We are working to learn more details about what qualifies someone to get that free internet at home. News On 6 reached out to COX and has not heard back yet.