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Oklahoma school districts begin closures, shifts to distance learning as COVID-19 cases surge

Posted at 10:51 AM, Aug 17, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-27 16:43:14-04

BRAGGS, Okla. — Several Oklahoma schools are announcing changes like distance learning or even canceling classes due to COVID-19 and staffing shortages.

Tahlequah Public Schools announce Friday all elementary school sites will be in distance learning from Aug. 30 to Sept. 7 due to not having enough teachers.

Braggs Public Schools announced Wednesday they're shifting to virtual learning for the rest of the week after dealing with several students in quarantine.

The district had planned to return to classrooms on Monday but instead decided to stay in virtual learning until Aug. 30.

Chelsea Public Schools announced Tuesday that school buildings are closed through Friday for cleaning in response to ongoing COVID-19 cases. The Rogers County school district has a deep cleaning protocol in its "Return to School" plan in response to positive cases of the virus in employees and students.

>> See the Chelsea Public School COVID-19 plan here

Tuesday's announcement came in response to "a significant number of students and staff" testing positive.

Superintendent Richard McSpadden told 2 News Oklahoma three teachers from the same building and 11 students, many from the same class, tested positive since school began last week. He said the speed of the spread was a factor in closing the schools.

Chelsea Fire Chief Craig Sampson has two kids in Chelsea Public Schools. He said the fire department is also seeing the outbreak in the community. One of his concerns right now is children playing sports.

“We’re starting to see some kids who have asthma," Sampson said. "That’s one of our biggest worries, is asthma and underlying issues in kids that we’re not catching on. As long as, you know, RSV’s going on as well. So it kind of feels like we’re getting slammed in both directions of RSV and COVID.”

Chelsea is the latest small Oklahoma school district to respond to a spike in cases since returning to class.

Cherokee County district Hulbert Public Schools announced Monday the number of students quarantining "due to close contact exposure" caused the absence rate to exceed 25 percent of the student body, forcing Hulbert Middle School and High School students to shift to Distance Learning through Thursday.

On Thursday, Hulbert announced they'll be requiring masks to be worn by every adult and student, regardless of vaccination status, at all times indoors and outdoors when in the presence of others on the school campus.

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt and Attorney General John O'Connor released statements criticizing Hulbert's decision.

“It is disappointing that one school district has chosen to openly violate a state law that was supported by 80 percent of the Legislature. The goal of SB658 was to ensure every student in Oklahoma could go to school in person and parents retained the fundamental right to make health care decisions for their children. To be clear, no parent is banned from sending their child to school with a mask and no school may mandate masks or vaccines. I will always stand up for parents’ right to decide what is best for their child." - Governor Stitt.

“We are vigorously defending SB658 in court because it is plainly constitutional and helps protect the choices of students and parents. Under the new law, public school boards cannot implement a mask mandate, unless certain conditions are met, including that the school district be in an area under a current state of emergency declared by the Governor. Under our constitution, the Legislature gets to set the policy of the state—especially on controversial issues like this—and schools should not be actively trying to undermine our constitutional structure of government by violating duly-enacted state law." - Attorney General O’Connor.

Larger districts have varying COVID-19 plans, and some keep regularly updated statistics on COVID-19 cases and quarantine situations on their websites.

>> Back to school in Oklahoma: What is my district's COVID-19 plan this year?

Tulsa Public Schools has a dashboard with updated numbers on cases and potential exposures on its website here.

>> Bixby COVID-19 dashboard
>> Jenks COVID-19 dashboard

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