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Green Country's largest districts navigate back-to-school plans: 'A lot of families are really pleading for more information'

Posted at 6:44 PM, Jul 28, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-29 14:45:59-04

TULSA, Okla. — Up in the air, fluid, changing by the minute.

Those are some words used by local and state leaders on the back-to-school plans. The clock is ticking and the pressure is on.

“A lot of families are really pleading for more information,” said Oklahoma Superintendent of Public Instruction, Joy Hofmeister.

Tulsa Public Schools parent, Angela Foster, said “ [I] hear a lot of vague, just broad, we’re working on it, we’re planning it.”

The worry is there is still no specific back-to-school plan.

“There are so many moving parts to this and just so many unknowns,” said Dr. Kirt Hartzler, Union Public Schools Superintendent.

The number one question — how to keep students safe? Parents and students have two options to consider.

“Do I want to be back in person as soon as it’s safe? Do I want the certainty of being 100% virtual for a semester or year,” Andrea Castañeda, Tulsa Public Schools chief design and innovation officer said during a live Zoom meeting with TPS Superintendent Dr. Deborah Gist.

The Oklahoma State Board of Education recommends school districts mask up and follow distancing guidelines. The state is also working to secure PPE for districts.

“I don’t think the process needs to be rushed,” said Kelsey Royce, a Tulsa Public Schools parent.

Both Foster and Royce wait for a definitive plan they feel comfortable with.

The latest recommendation from Dr. Gist is distance learning for the first nine weeks of school.

Right now, UPS has a different plan.

“The plan, right now, is for us to attempt to have in person learning on August 24,” Dr. Hartzler said.

UPS offers an online option too and masks are required for every Union student and staff member on campus.

Green Country’s three largest school districts are navigating how to distance thousands of students for normal instruction.

Dr. Hartzler said, “You’re talking large schools. Even if you were to go with a hybrid schedule, dividing students up at 50%, you still have to worry about congregating and still trying to physically distance kids. It’s tough to do.”

Castaneda said, “We’re supposed to be six feet apart. Then, you picture that in a school and realize cafeterias don’t look the same, hallways don’t look the same, lockers don’t function the same way anymore.”

The next TPS board meeting is Monday, Aug. 3. That is when a plan will be voted on.

Broken Arrow Public Schools will announce a reentry plan Wednesday morning, July 29, at their board meeting.

Union Public Schools moves forward with the in-person plan by adding hygiene stations, disinfectant equipment, and ordering more PPE.

“As much as we want to control what we’re doing, we know the real thing that’s going to control us is the pandemic itself and the disease,” Dr. Hartzler said.

They keep a watchful eye on case counts and hope the coronavirus does not rage on into the 2020-2021 semester.

“That’s the one thing that we can know — no matter what, this is not going to be a typical school year,” Dr. Gist said.

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