Tulsa Area Teachers Share Concern About COVID-19 Impacting Classrooms

Wednesday, July 15th 2020, 6:19 pm
By: Amelia Mugavero

TULSA, Okla. -

As President Trump is calling on schools to reopen this fall, many Green Country school districts are talking about plans for the upcoming school year.

Many of those schools are using a blend of both online and in-person learning. Four Green Country teachers --- all from different schools and different backgrounds --- shared their opinions on what they think of the controversial topic.  

Read the full interview with Stephanie Shumaker, a speech-language pathologist for Tulsa Public SchoolsAnthony Cherry, a teacher at Booker T. Washington, as well as Michelle Stevenson, a librarian at McLain, and Jennifer Brown, a teacher for 30 years in Broken Arrow, below.

News On 6: With the school starting in the fall, how do you feel about returning to in-class learning? 


SS: That’s something that we're really concerned about. As a speech pathologist, we see different kids in different ways. We don’t know yet, and we are not sure we can do things in the safest way. It’s not just about one thing it’s the whole community effort.


JB: In a perfect world, we would be heading back into the classroom. I love my students, I love the interaction, I love them being quirky and silly. I love seeing the kids come into the classroom with no confidence, and then --- because of something we’ve done in the classroom --- all of a sudden they start gaining the confidence. That’s why I am a teacher, and that’s why I taught for 30 years. 

But, what we have right now is an imperfect world. It’s imperfect, and we have no control over that. It’s a virus and we can’t see it. We are in a position where we are going to have to make a plan that’s going to benefit everyone.


News On 6: If Broken Arrow Schools came out and said we’re doing in class learning blended learning. Will you retire?


JB: An option is to retire and that’s not the option I want to take. I have quite a few good years left in me and I did not expect my final year to be the one this one was --- so I really hope that retiring doesn’t have to happen but at this point my hands are tied. If I do not get one of the distance-learning positions that’s available --- yes, I would retire.


AM: What are your feelings about that?

JB: I am very sad and I think I’m also angry. I’m angry not at my district --- I’m angry at the situation --- I’m angry that some of the people I believe choosing politics over people --- and it’s funny because the meaning of "politics" is the people.


News On 6: Do you feel you can give the same quality education to you students?


AC: We as teachers and students in high school have the flexibility, and I think that public school teachers are special enough to be flexible and continue to provide a quality learning experience. But I’ll be frank --- I do believe that online learning is sub-par to the actual classroom experience, but if it’s necessary, we will do what it takes to serve our children to the best of our ability and the safest way possible, and I feel that the safest way possible is distance learning at this moment.


News On 6: Do you think in class schooling should even be in the conversation?


AC: Absolutely not! In-class learning should not even be in the equation at this moment. If we have cases of COVID that continue to rise --- not only in Oklahoma, but throughout state --- I think it’s important take our kids safety as a priority. 


News On 6: Michelle, you’re a librarian. I would imagine you see a lot of kids every single day, and you’re supposed to start school in less than a month. Do you have any thoughts and feelings about that?


MS: I think it is ridiculous that I have to go back in person. I have over 600 students in my building --- all of which are welcome to use the library under normal circumstances, and that can’t happen if we go back in person. There’s no logistical way for me to open the library to the entire schoo, so that changes everything. None of our classrooms are capable of socially distancing.

News On 6: Do you feel like you’re stuck in a rock and a hard place at this point?


MS: I don’t want to attend any of my students funerals --- I don’t want to watch them bury their parents. I don’t want to see my parents be bombarded with medical bills. It’s just not feasible to go back. If one of us goes back and one of us dies --- the narratives are going to be that whe are a "hero," that we sacrificed ourselves, and that’s ridiculous! You’re already running the risk of taking a bullet for your kids and now you’re asking us to run the risk of getting a virus that has long-term consequences. 

My concern is ending up in the hospital, on a ventilator, and the medical bills that come with it. I am concerned about my loved ones dying. You’re asking me to potentially sacrifice my life to teach your child how to read --- that’s not a fair trade off. Even if we didn’t have any school in person or online for the entire year --- we can make that up, we can fix that! If your kids are dead and I’m dead --- no one can fix that. There’s no coming back from that.


News On 6: If you school does return to in-class learning, what will you do?

MS: If I have to leave, I have to leave, and that’s really unfortunate. I stuck it out through all the budget cuts, through the walkout, through the complete disrespect for our profession and things that we. It’s interesting that we can’t get raises, or we can’t get more funding, but 'please go die,' so that we don’t have to have our kids at home. Teachers aren’t martyrs. We all want to go back, but we don’t want to die to do it --- and we don’t want to see that for our kids.


Teachers across the state have submitted questions to the Oklahoma State Department of Education, as they look to prepare for the fall. Below is a list of those questions.

Questions from teachers to the Oklahoma State Department of Education: 

Will PPE be mandated or merely highly encouraged? Will this vary by district? Will PPE be provided by districts? Why are students not mandated to wear masks?

Is football going to happen? Can virtual students participate in sports/extracurriculars?

Will teachers who get sick or quarantined have to use their sick leave? What will sick leave policy look like?

Will there be a trigger for a specified number of confirmed cases before a school shuts down?

How do we achieve social distance on school buses? In classrooms?

Will teachers receive hazard pay?

When will teachers be included in the planning?

What will the absentee policy look like for students? Will a student be counted absent 14 days if they quarantine?

Will start dates be pushed back?

What about testing and screening procedures?

What is the plan for sub shortages?

What provisions will be made for teachers who need daycare for their children?

Can teachers have access to buildings during distance learning? Not all have home offices/wi-fi etc.

What about pregnant teachers? Immuno-compromised teachers?

Will there be a guaranteed program to send sick kids home?

What about provisions for SPED students? ELL students? How will we complete IEPs?

What about lunch/snack time, when kids take off their masks?

Will PE requirements be waived?

How will virtual learning work for early childhood?

Do we have enough nurses and custodians?

Will schools do covid testing? What are the contact tracing and isolation protocols? When will teachers be notified of positive cases at their school?

How do we minimize the moving and mingling of kids and teachers from class to class?

Will fire drills, etc be waived?

Will we waive RSA tests?

Can we restrict parents from entering the schools?

Will teachers and parents be surveyed and allowed to participate in decision-making?