Governor Kevin Stitt changed the state’s quarantine guidelines for students to get them back to in-person learning, but not everyone agrees with his latest policy change.
School districts and educators were quick to respond to the changes.
Stitt cited new data on student performance and student safety.
"Schools that enforce the use of masks will not have to quarantine potential exposures unless they're showing symptoms. This is what's best for our students, period. End of story," Stitt said.
He said with an increased number of students failing classes, it's vital to get them back in schools.
"We're seeing the consequence of these choices and it breaks my heart," Stitt said. “In Oklahoma City Public Schools, 66% more high school students have an F in one of their classes compared to last year. These kids are struggling and it’s not their fault. They need to be in the classrooms, and they need their teachers.”
Stitt cited a study by the American Academy of Pediatrics, which suggests students can go back to school safely, if the virus is mitigated in school buildings and in communities.
Alicia Priest, President of the Oklahoma Education Association, argues that data and advice might not apply in Oklahoma where COVID-19 cases are on the rise.
"He cherry-picks what he wants to tell the public thinking they won't go and read the rest of the research paper," Priest said. "You have to mitigate the virus on a community basis, not just schools. It takes both."
Regardless, the governor said he wants equal education in the state. He said that can't happen if some schools are still virtual, and others are in-person.
“Sadly, just a few blocks can make a big difference in the world. Students in Broken Arrow were able to go to school for 66 days in the fall semester. The state’s largest high school found a way to get this done," Stitt said.
“Minutes away, Tulsa Public Schools, their high schoolers haven’t been in the building for 305 days, all because you live a couple blocks in the wrong direction.”
TPS responded, saying they're making decisions based on science and that transmission rates in Tulsa county are just too high to justify what still could be a dangerous full return to in-person learning.
The sentiment was echoed by multiple other districts. They say that they'll consider the governor's recommendation, but they need more information before they make any changes.
You can read statements from Green Country Schools and educators below.
State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister is critical of the governor's new guidelines, saying that while she agrees in-person school is critical, COVID-19 is still rampant in the state.
"The ramifications of the pandemic on education have been challenging and severe. While this option underscores the need for mask requirements in school, I cannot in good conscience support ignoring quarantine guidelines from the CDC and other infectious disease experts. There is no doubt we all want our students and teachers to be safely in the classroom, but COVID is raging in Oklahoma. In-person instruction is critical, and so is mitigating the spread of the virus. They are not mutually exclusive."
Tulsa Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Deborah Gist emphasized that the district is committed to using data and science to make their decisions. She issued the following statement in response to Governor Stitt's guidelines:
"Throughout the pandemic, our district leaders have been consistent. When making decisions, we use science and data, and we follow the guidance of our public health professionals.
The COVID rates for Tulsa County and all of Oklahoma are at their highest point. In fact, Oklahoma is again a “top ten” state for COVID cases and for positivity rates, and there is no indication that rates will decline soon particularly since we have no state mask requirement.
No one wants our students back in their classrooms with their teachers and peers as much as we do. Our students, our teachers, our team, our board, and our parents are all very anxious to get back to in-person learning safely. We are also committed to the safety of our students, our team members, and their families.
Since we are committed to using science to inform our decisions, we will carefully review the two studies that the governor and his team referenced today.
We need for Tulsans to continue to wear their masks, wash their hands often, and practice safe distancing to prevent the spread of coronavirus. When we all use these precautions, we can reduce COVID cases and ensure our students can safely return to their classrooms."
Bixby Public Schools issued this statement in response to the changes,
"Following Gov. Stitt’s Press Conference Bixby Schools is reviewing today’s announcement from Governor Stitt relative to COVID-19 and school quarantine protocols. We had no advance knowledge of this information prior to the governor’s press conference this afternoon and are awaiting final written guidance from the state before making any changes to our existing protocol. Should this guidance result in any changes to our current protocol, we will communicate with employees and families. Students and staff members currently in quarantine should complete the quarantine unless otherwise notified."
Jenks Public Schools also issued a statement regarding the governor's press conference, saying they will first review the guidance before making any changes.
"The statements by Governor Stitt regarding a possible change in quarantine policy for schools arrived to JPS officials as new information. Like others, we heard all of this for the first time during the Governor’s press conference this afternoon.
Before we change course or make any decisions about modifying our protocols, we must receive and review the written guidance from state officials. Once the guidance has been thoroughly reviewed and decisions for our district have been finalized, we will communicate with employees and families.
We know some will have expectations for immediate change, while others will prefer to continue with existing protocols. As of now, JPS is maintaining current quarantine protocols. Those students and staff members in quarantine should complete the quarantine unless otherwise notified.
Please allow our district time to analyze this new information and act accordingly. We want our schools to be open for in-person learning for as long as possible, and we want to make sure we can do so safely and responsibly."
Owasso Public Schools also issued a statement in response to the governor's announcement: They said that they are "awaiting written guidance from the state before considering modifications to our current practices and procedures."
We are aware that many of our families will have questions regarding the information that Gov. Kevin Stitt and other state officials shared this afternoon regarding quarantine guidelines in schools. Like many of you, we heard this information for the first time as it was announced during the Governor’s press conference today.
We are awaiting written guidance from the state before considering modifications to our current practices and procedures. Once we have reviewed the state’s guidance, we will determine what changes, if any, are appropriate for our district and communicate that information to you.
Until further notice, we will continue to adhere to existing quarantine protocols. Students and staff members in quarantine will complete the quarantine timeline unless otherwise notified."