TULSA, Okla. — Oklahoma State Secretary of Education Ryan Walters is facing backlash over a series of tweets calling on school administrators to do everything they can to remain open as COVID cases surge in Oklahoma.
Walters, who is running for state superintendent, said in his tweet:
"The first reaction should not be to shut schools down. It is the last resort. Parents are tired and children suffer when administrators act out of fear and not in the best interests of their kids and their future."
A follow-up tweet said: "I call on schools to use all of their available resources and administrative staff to cover classes to ensure all of our students are given an in person education option. They should fulfill their obligation to educate our kids in Oklahoma."
Those words are not sitting well with school administrators like Bixby Public Schools Superintendent Rob Miller, who said the district is doing everything it can to have students in the classroom.
“I know it doesn’t resonate well with our teachers and staff who are working really hard," Miller said. "And I honestly think Secretary Walters owes all educators in Oklahoma an apology.”
Bixby moved to distance learning on Tuesday. In a letter to parents, Miller said, as of Tuesday morning, 270 students and teachers tested positive for COVID since returning from winter break. He said there are not enough bus drivers, child nutrition workers, custodians, teachers or substitute teachers.
“We are working overtime, worked all weekend trying to find substitutes and come up with plans for transportation," Miller said. "Our principals and admin assistants and everyone we possibly can find have been filling classrooms since we came back from the break.”
The changes are also impacting parents and students.
Vanessa Self has four children at Jenks Public Schools, two of whom moved to distance learning this week.
“They actually do okay," Self said. "I prefer them to be in school. I think they learn more. It’s a better thing, but, obviously, if people are not healthy and well we don’t want them there anyways."
Self feels for the school districts navigating these challenges, but wishes parents would be given more notice of changes.
“I wish things were just a little more clear," Self said. "Like, based on facts, say if this happens then this is our response, if this happens this is our response."
Both Self and Miller want students back in school, but also want more support from education leaders in the state.
“We’re focused on keeping our doors open," Miller said. "And they should know that. That we are not trying to try and just put kids back at home. We don’t want that. Nobody does. And to insinuate that we are is just unfair.”
Bixby plans to return to in-person learning on Tues., Jan. 18.
2 News Oklahoma reached out to Walters for comment, but was unable to get in contact with him.
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