OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – As students have been in class for less than a week, officials in the state’s largest school district say they are making changes to protect the health and safety of children.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister said that while the COVID-19 vaccine has been proven to be very effective, there are around 645,000 Oklahoma students who are not vaccinated against the virus.
Since the vaccine isn’t approved for children under the age of 12, Hofmeister and local health experts say they encourage everyone to take precautions in order to protect the safety and health of young children.
“We have children who go to school with peanut allergies and we change the way we behave in that class. We have to be looking at what is best for the children in our classrooms and parents and teachers need to work together on this,” said Hofmeister.
Hofmeister says she is encouraging Oklahomans to get vaccinated against COVID-19, to wear masks, and to encourage their children to wear masks while in the classroom.
While many districts have said they will encourage their students to wear masks indoors, state lawmakers passed Senate Bill 658, which would prevent schools from requiring masks indoors unless a state of emergency is issued.
On Friday, Oklahoma City Public Schools announced that it is requiring masks for students and staff.
“While Senate Bill 658 prohibits school boards from mandating the wearing of masks, the law does not prohibit the Superintendent and district administration from requiring the wearing of masks by our students, staff, and visitors,” a letter from Superintendent Dr. Sean McDaniel read.
Beginning Aug. 16, face coverings will be required on school property, school vehicles, and at school-sponsored events regardless of your vaccination status.
The district is also restricting access to all outside visitors during the school day until further notice.
“Parents and guardians may visit the office at your child’s school to conduct any necessary business but will not be permitted to enter other parts of the building,” the letter read.
“The numbers we are seeing in our city and in our school buildings reinforce that this threat is not hypothetical. In just our first three days of classes, OKCPS has moved from single-digit active COVID-19 cases to triple-digit numbers.
As the superintendent, I am ultimately responsible for the safety, health and welfare of each and every one of our students and our staff. I take that responsibility very seriously, but the truth is OKCPS can’t do it alone.
I am once again asking our students, families, staff and community to join us in prioritizing these things: wear a mask, get vaccinated if you can and quarantine appropriately. If we do, we give ourselves the best chance to keep OKCPS kids healthy and in our buildings. Our students learn better when learning can take place face to face, and we must continue to work together and do all we can to make that possible.
None of this is easy, but I assure you it’s worth it. Our kids are worth it. And, they’re counting on us, Oklahoma City.”Superintendent Dr. Sean McDaniel
During a news conference on Friday, McDaniel said that they knew of three kids and one adult who tested positive for COVID-19 before the start of school.
After just four days in school, McDaniel says their cases have climbed to 88 students and 31 adults who tested positive for COVID-19.
McDaniel says the masking requirement wasn’t implemented before the start of the school year because the district wanted to see if their mitigation strategies without masks would be enough.
As cases climbed, they quickly realized that it wasn’t enough.
Officials say they will also be hosting vaccination clinics at all of the district’s middle and high schools, which would allow any student interested in receiving the vaccine to be fully vaccinated by fall break.
OKCPS also announced that it would use a portion of federal funds it received to provide a one-time cash stipend of $1,000 to all district staff members who choose to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
To read the full letter, visit the OKCPS website.
Gov. Stitt released the following statement on the announcement:
“I appreciate that school districts like Santa Fe Charter Schools and Oklahoma City Public Schools are respecting parents’ rights to decide what is best for the health of their children and opt out of mask requirements if they choose.”
House Minority Leader Emily Virgin released the following statement in response to Gov. Stitt’s:
“I am encouraged to see the Governor step out of the way of administrators attempting to protect their students and staff. House Democrats continue to believe these decisions are best made by elected school board members. However, the Governor’s statement today should be a signal to superintendents across the state that they are able to implement mask policies for their districts.”