TULSA, Okla — Students at three Tulsa Public Schools went back to distance learning for part of the week.
Different Tulsa Public Schools have been on distance learning at different points during the week.
Students at Central Middle and High are in distance learning the rest of the week. Emerson, Rogers, Hawthorne, Hale, Monroe Demonstration Academy and Skelly (4th-grade dual language) will suspend in-person learning on Friday, Jan. 7. The Tulsa Public School district says the move is due largely to staff absences.
The Broken Arrow Freshman Academy and Liberty Elementary will also transition to distance learning Friday, Jan.
"Like other entities, we are struggling with staffing and it's true in terms of hiring and in terms of people out for illnesses," TPS Superintendent Dr. Deborah Gist says.
TPS sent 2 News Oklahoma the following statement on Thursday following several schools' decisions to transition to distance learning to end the week:
A critical factor in decisions around whether schools or classrooms shift to at-home learning is our ability to sustain teaching and learning. We do everything we can to ensure that our classrooms will have coverage if our teachers are not able to come to school in-person. Our teams will spend hours trying to find substitutes and determining if adequate coverage could be provided. Unfortunately due to unforeseen staffing absences, some our schools may have to make the tough decision to suspend in-person learning for all students on a particular day -- notifying parents as soon as possible.
Union Public Schools also made changes. The district says, per new CDC guidelines they're shortening the isolation period from ten days to five days. Union still has a mask mandate, with the option to opt-out for religious, medical, or personal reasons. One 5th-grade teacher says there have been a lot of absences, but it's not students missing class.
“I've heard some of my coworkers say things like you know I bet we don't make it two weeks before we end up distance learning. Not because of the kids spread. But because of staffing issues,“ says Jennifer Thornton, a 5th-grade teacher.
Thornton says the possibility of having to go virtual again is worrisome. “It is nerve-wracking because and worrisome about having all of that workload, unplugging all of our computer cords. Getting all the materials and we have to change our lesson plans completely because it's different your delivery method has to be different when you are on a computer than when you are in person.”
Union Public Schools shifted students to distance learning on Friday but expects them to be back in classrooms on Monday.
Thornton also says some of the teachers are concerned about the potential impact on students. “Nobody wants to do that. We know in the classroom with kids with us is what's best for them. It's the most ideal environment for us to get most info across to them.”
In a statement to parents, Bixby Public Schools Superintendent Rob Miller says students should prepare for "possible short-term pivots to distance learning."
The district is also implementing more COVID-19 protocols. Only students, teachers, and faculty will be allowed in the building, which means no visitors or volunteers.
The pandemic is also impacting some smaller schools. Collegiate Hall in Tulsa is starting this semester back Thursday virtually.
Olivia Martin, executive director at Collegiate Hall says, “We have enough middle school teachers who were sick today. That they went virtual already. And that's probably 8 or nine staff members. And we are a small school so that's a big hit."
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