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Tulsa Public Schools approves distance learning for start of school year

Posted at 4:10 PM, Jul 27, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-04 18:29:37-04

TULSA, Okla. — The Tulsa Public Schools Board of Education approves distance learning for the beginning of the 2020-21 school year.

The board voted Monday evening for the district to conduct courses virtually during the fall semester.

Distance learning would take place for the first nine weeks of the year.

Superintendent Deborah A. Gist is going to recommend a mode of learning for the second quarter of the year before the end of October, according to TPS officials.

Tulsa Health Department Executive Director Bruce Dart expressed his satisfaction on the board's decision.

We are pleased of the challenging decision our public school leaders made today toward lessening the spread of COVID-19 in the City of Tulsa.

The district had little preparation when it went to distance learning this past spring. But now, students will be graded, given feedback and attendance will be taken for showing up and participating in lessons.

This graphic outlines the difference parents will see with 2020-21 distance learning compared to the 'crisis response' in mid-March.

“It doesn’t mean that students will be in front of screens or computers all day long," Gist said. "But it does mean that there will be schedules and models that give them much more to do during their school day and greater expectations.”

The board also voted Monday night to purchase PPE for staff and students. The district is still determining how much PPE it will receive from the state through CARES Act funding.

The board also approved a grant that will give the district more than 10,000 new hot spots for students who do not have access to the internet at home. The district said it has about 10,000 to 12,000 students without access to the internet. The district said it currently had about 2,000 hot spots prior to the grant.

Gist said they will expand technology for students. First, the district plans to ensure every student has a Chromebook. Gist said TPS currently has 40,000 Chromebooks and about 6,500 in reserve. It's also ordering 16,000 new Chromebooks in August.

It also plans to give laptops to teachers that will support distance learning.

One of the biggest issues though, is what will working parents, and teachers, do with their kids home all day? JJ Burnam and his wife have three children in TPS schools and both have full-time jobs.

“That’s what we’re talking through now is, again, how can the businesses adapt so that we have an adult at home with the kids, you know, shepherding them through this challenge," he said.

The district is looking for a solution. It's working with local faith and community organizations to provide a safe space for students to do distance learning, but that also comes with problems.

“We can’t replicate school in terms of bringing students together," Gist said. "It defeats the purpose of not having groups of students together. And so it has to be done in very small groups or in spaces that allow for significant distancing.”

This comes after the Tulsa Classroom Teachers Association announced its support for virtual learning for the first nine weeks of the school year.

“We are heartbroken," said Shawna Mott-Wright, president of TCTA. "We want to be with our kids physically. We want normal so badly we can taste it and smell it and touch it, but the facts are, the ship named ‘Normal’ has sailed.”

As the district, parents and teachers find the new normal, Burnam said they’ll make the best of it.

“I have a lot of confidence that we’ve got terrific teachers throughout Tulsa and they’re going to go 110 percent to make sure that the kids get everything they possibly can out of this," Burnam said.

The Oklahoma State Board of Education approved safety protocols as a recommendation, not requirement, for returning to school. The board also released five coronavirus alert levels with guidelines.

For parents seeking information regarding special needs children a zoom meeting will take place Tuesday at 3pm.

For more info click here.

For more information regarding the district's back to school plan, click here.

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