State superintendent addresses back to school plans, digital divide across Oklahoma

Classrooms & COVID-19

OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – This school year is going to look a lot different than years past as districts and teachers try to balance education with safety in the midst of a global pandemic.

In just a few days, students in Moore will be heading back to class to kick off the 2020-2021 school year.

Other districts like Oklahoma City and Putnam City will have students attend virtual classes for the first nine weeks of the school year.

“Our districts are responding to the data. They are responding after they have had a lot of conversations with public health officials and with their community. What we are seeing is larger districts have moved to virtual starts as it is very, very difficult to switch to that once school has begun. And if they are in an area of high population density, the spread is very likely in that community and they are making that choice ahead of time. But all of our districts have an option for a virtual start for families who are not ready to send their students back into the classroom. And this is something that’s important whether you are in rural, suburban, or a metro-centered urban area,” said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister.

While many districts may want to move to virtual learning, the switch can be more difficult for some areas than others.

“There is a digital divide in Oklahoma and we have really taken big steps to try to close that, but we’re not finished. We did provide 50,000 hot spots to get the internet at home through a mobile device that we have been able to give to our districts so they can put them in homes of low-income families where they do not have this resource. We know there’s going to be families, even if they are starting in an in-person learning instructional model, where those students will need to be quarantined or a teacher may test positive and there would be even exposure to the whole class. So this is going to be important that we have, whether a district starts all virtual or whether some students are out right away due to quarantine,” she said.

As students head back to in-person learning for the first time since the early spring, there is no doubt that some students will likely have to be quarantined throughout the school year due to exposure to COVID-19.

“We are following CDC guidelines and we have been giving those updated guidelines to our districts. But this should also be something where decisions are made not in a vacuum, but with the data that public health officials at the county level are able to provide for districts. And it will also depend on the level of exposure so you’re right. If it is an elementary school classroom, it is very likely those are students who have spent a lot of time, hours upon hours, together in a classroom and it will result with a school classroom then being in quarantine. But we also know as those students are older, they are mixing classes, they are not staying in their same cohort. So we are asking our districts to use assigned seating. It will help with contact tracing so that those actually exposed that need to be quarantined will be those that are notified through that contact tracing. And every district will be asked to have a point of contact for the public, state department of health, in contact tracing,” she said.

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