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State superintendent urging vaccinations, masking as students pour back into Oklahoma schools

Posted at 10:20 AM, Aug 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-13 10:35:13-04

TULSA, Okla. — Students around the state are gearing up to head back to class after a year spent mostly at home.

However, the latest COVID-19 surge means many districts are re-thinking their re-entry plans.

Tulsa Public Schools is asking students 12 and older to be vaccinated and for everyone to wear a mask.

"Getting a vaccine is what we didn’t have last year," Oklahoma State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister said. "We could only rely on masking and social distancing and washing hands. This year, we have the ultimate fighter which is that vaccine miracle that we all in Oklahoma were praying for."

Hofmeister is clear on where she and the State Department of Education stand on this issue.

"We are now asking everybody that as soon as you are able and are eligible, to roll up your sleeve and take that vaccine so that we can keep our schools open," she said.

COVID-19 also had an impact on the state budget, but thanks to federal relief dollars, Hofmeister says the schools are in pretty good shape.

"We are so grateful for the federal relief dollars that is helping our schools' official resources to hire more people. We know that our students are going to need more reading specialists or tutors or additional teachers where we can recruit and train them and place them in Oklahoma schools," she says.

2 News Oklahoma learned federal funds can also be used as a stipend to assist teachers in enhancing their pay after a very difficult year last year.

"We have a lot of needs of course, but we do have federal dollars that are identified to address those needs," she said.

The state also has another resource it can pull from.

"We are looking at a grant that we have awarded and distributed of $35 million to help support more school counselors. Also, to have the licensed professional counselors that can provide additional support and service to families," Hofmeister said.

With the recent spike in COVID-19 cases, Hofmeister says she won't be surprised if families choose to go virtual again.

"With the spread of the Delta variant, we do expect to see a number of families choose the virtual option until they feel their kids could be vaccinated and could be back in a regular classroom," she said.

However, the state won't have a concrete picture of the enrollment numbers until Oct.1.

Since the pandemic delayed enrollment last year, the state does expect to see more kindergarten and first-grade classes.

"Right now, we are hearing from our districts that we are seeing more of our young kids return, and the need for more kindergarten and first-grade teachers and that was to be expected," Hofmeister said, saying it's vital that schools re-open.

At the same time, she says it is critical that we take every precaution to protect the health and well being of teachers, support staff and students.

She is urging everyone to wear masks, follow social distancing guidelines and practice good hygiene.

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