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Masks, quarantines and teaching shortages: Tulsa superintendent talks return to classrooms

Posted at 2:45 PM, Aug 17, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-18 10:47:57-04

TULSA, Okla. — Thursday morning, the bell will ring for thousands of students in Tulsa Public Schools.

While students, faculty and staff are expected to have a mask on, the district is also encouraging parents to vaccinate all children ages 12 and up.

Despite the mask expectation at TPS, state law currently prevents districts from issuing a mask mandate unless Governor Stitt declares a state of emergency.

At this point, he says he has no plans to do so.

The TPS school board held a special meeting and voted to allow its attorneys to explore legal options.

MORE >>> Tulsa Public School board votes to allow for legal action against state over masking law

“No action has been taken at this point, but we are exploring all of the possibilities," said TPS Superintendent Dr. Deborah Gist.

Along with the mask issue, the district is also working hard to fill roughly 100 classroom vacancies.

“Anybody who is watching and is interested in working with young people or operationally, we have lots of positions within the district, we very much need folks," Gist said.

She said some of the biggest needs the district has right now are special needs teachers.

They are also looking for several substitute teachers.

To put things into perspective, during a typical year, TPS has 400 active substitutes by this time. The district told 2 News Oklahoma that currently, it has 160 candidates in its substitute pool.

Here is the monetary breakdown for substitute teachers:

  • For a certified teacher, you could earn up to $115 a day.
  • For a certified teacher on long-term assignment, you could earn up to $140 a day.
  • For someone who has completed 48 hours of college credit, you can earn up to $105 a day.
  • And for someone with a high school diploma, you can earn up to $90 a day.

Despite the staffing and other issues the district is facing heading into the new year Gist said they are thrilled to welcome students back and will work very hard to make the school year a success.

For parents interested in the school's safety procedures, we have included this list from the TPS website:

  • Ventilation: Improved air filtration and/or ventilation systems at each school to minimize the potential airborne transmission of the virus in schools.
  • Handwashing and cleaning: Hand sanitizer and hand-washing stations will be available at all sites; disinfectant cleaner and wipes will be placed in classrooms; and custodians will continue the use of electrostatic sprayers in our buildings.
  • Contact tracing and quarantine: We will continue the contact tracing and notification process and recommended quarantine periods.
  • COVID-19 rapid testing: We will offer COVID-19 rapid-testing for all students in grades pre-K-12 and all staff who have opted-in to the program. Click here for more information about our rapid testing program.
  • Limited building access: We will limit non-staff visitor access to our buildings.
  • Welcome stations: We will resume the use of welcome stations at building entrances, and adults entering the building will be asked to complete a temperature check; staff will resume use of our Screen and Go app.
  • At-home health screenings: Parents will be asked to complete an at-home health screening with their children prior to coming to school. Click here for our at-home health screening questions.

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