OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – As teachers and district leaders work to find a way to safely reopen schools in the fall, a group of education advocates is calling on state leaders to require face masks for everyone at school.
On Thursday, the Oklahoma Education Association called on Gov. Kevin Stitt, Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister, and other top-level state leaders to require the wearing of masks of everyone at school.
“The OEA implores Governor Stitt, State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister and State Commissioner of Health Col. Lance Frye to stop pushing decisions down to the school district level when districts do not employ public health experts and epidemiologists to help them make these decisions,” OEA President Alicia Priest said. “We need our state leaders to set clear guidelines of what is expected within our schools, rather than a patchwork of conflicting policies from one district to the next.”
In addition to requiring masks, the OEA says the state must meet the following standards to ensure a safe environment in the classroom:
- Provide schools with personal protective equipment, soap, hand sanitizer, and other necessary cleaning supplies.
- Establish protocols on when to shut down a school site or an entire school district.
- Address the number of students in one building at a time.
Officials say teachers and staff members will begin reporting to schools in the next two or three weeks.
Before that happens, the OEA says the state needs to adopt clear and strong policies to protect the health and safety of all students and employees.
“These policies must include requiring masks to be worn by students and teachers, staggering student attendance to a level that allows for social distancing at every moment of the school day, guidance for what should occur when a student or teacher tests positive, and leave policies that allow for students and staff to stay home when they need to quarantine,” Priest said.
Jami Cole, a teacher in Duncan and leader of the Oklahoma Edvocates Facebook group, says everyone wants school to be as close to normal as possible, but safety must be a priority.
“This discussion is not about partisan politics or denying individual freedoms,” Cole said. “It’s quite simply about the health and safety of our children and the education professionals who work with them every day.”
While children seem to rarely suffer from severe cases of COVID-19, officials say many Oklahoma students have underlying health conditions that put them at higher risk for complications.
Oklahoma Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister sent KFOR the following statement:
“The safety and well-being of every student, teacher and staff in public schools weighs heavily on our hearts and minds as we have been consumed with detailed planning for the next school year. Only a few weeks ago, Oklahoma school districts received $145 million in federal relief funds for the express use of responding to the pandemic. The Oklahoma State Department of Education is actively working to secure additional relief funds for PPE and other critical needs – and there is reason for optimism that another federal relief package for schools will be forthcoming – but the situation remains fluid.
COVID-19 cases are rising and the OSDE is in close communication with the state Department of Health and other trusted public health experts to find the most appropriate course of action, but the fact is community transmission of the virus varies widely throughout Oklahoma. Districts can and should act on the situation in their respective areas with consultation from local and state health officials — and we have been deeply involved in the work of developing a multitiered safety protocol response that corresponds with the path of the virus.”
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