Oologah Superintendent Blames Health Department For 'Confusion And Fear'

Thursday, January 8th 2015, 5:37 pm
By: Richard Clark

The superintendent of Oologah Schools held a news conference Thursday afternoon to discuss the death of a kindergarten student earlier in the week. 

In a prepared statement, Max Tanner said the health department told him testing so far has not indicated any illness requiring antiviral or vaccination for people in close contact with the little girl. He said further testing is still being performed to make sure.

Jenny Yang, 6, died Monday evening, January 5, 2015, after being sent home from her kindergarten class with a fever earlier that day.

Late Wednesday evening, Tanner canceled classes for Thursday after learning from News On 6 that the Rogers County Health Department had changed its statement about the risk to people who had come in contact with the girl.

1/7/2015: Related Story: Oologah Cancels School After Conflicting Health Department Statements

On Tuesday the health department said there was no evidence to support a diagnosis of a communicable disease and there was no risk or danger to other students or staff at the school where the child was enrolled.

But on Wednesday afternoon the department appeared to reverse itself, saying it didn't want to rule out any possible cause of death in Yang's case. That prompted Tanner to cancel classes for Thursday at Oologah.

At his news conference on Thursday afternoon, Tanner said the health department's statement to the media on Wednesday afternoon caused confusion and fear for him and his administration as well as for parents and students in his district.

Tanner acknowledged the district's history of a bacterial meningitis outbreak. That outbreak happened in March of 2010, killing two students and leaving a third with no arms or legs.

At the time of the conference Tanner said no decision had been made regarding Friday classes, but later Thursday evening it was announced classes would be canceled.

This is the statement Tanner read:

"Good afternoon. My name is Max Tanner and I am the Superintendent of Oologah-Talala Public Schools and I want to express my sincere condolences to the family of our young student that passed away Monday evening and let you know our prayers are with you during this difficult time.

As a Superintendent the health and safety of our students, teachers and staff is my number one concern.

Tuesday morning I received a phone call about the death of our young student. Knowing the previous history of this district we immediately contacted the Rogers County Health Department for information and guidance.

During this process, I have been transferred to and told to call several different people within the Oklahoma State Department of Health for information. I have had several conversations with these individuals and each conversation has been different than the last.

Even though I have had a lot of different reports through these conversations the only information I have quoted to our parents and our community was the information that I received in emails from Rogers County Health Department and the Oklahoma State Department of Health.

A press conference, held Wednesday afternoon between the Health Department and the media, led to confusion and fear for our parents, students and staff.

As a parent I understand the concern, wanting to protect my children from anything harmful. As a superintendent I feel the same way. That is why I thought it was best for our community, parents and students to cancel school today. The decision to go to school tomorrow will be made later this evening.

The latest information I have from the Rogers County and Oklahoma State Department of Health states there is nothing to indicate a public health concern to members of the school or community. If there were a concern, regardless of how remote, the health department would be proactively involved. Five minutes ago, I received this information: “Testing so far has not indicated any illness requiring antivirals or vaccination for people in close contact with the little girl. Further testing is still being performed to finalize the results.”

Again, I want to assure this community and the parents that the health and safety of our students, teachers and staff is my number one concern."