OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Oklahoma City Public Schools students will gradually return to in-person classes two weeks after the start of the second semester.
OKCPS Superintendent Dr. Sean McDaniel announced the school district’s ‘Return to Campus Plan’ on Friday.
McDaniel said he kept many factors in mind when determining a course of action for returning students to the classroom, including input from teachers, families and students, as well as statements from health officials as the COVID-19 pandemic spiked after the Thanksgiving holiday.
“Weighing all of these factors, in consultation with our partners at the Oklahoma City-County Health Department, we plan to begin second semester with all students in a remote setting for two weeks, and then gradually return students to classrooms in an A/B setting beginning January 19 with our youngest learners and high-need groups as the priority,” McDaniel said.
He said coming to a decision was difficult because every option has serious consequences.
“From the beginning we have said we would do what is safe and responsible, and OKCPS has never wavered from the health and safety of our students, families and staff being our top priority,” McDaniel said. “But, we are also committed to considering critical second factors: the opportunities that students and families are losing by not having access to in-person services. What we have heard from staff and families confirms that these are values we all share.”
OKCPS has added three new strategies to the existing three major COVID-19 safety strategies – social distancing, hand washing and face coverings. The three new strategies are as follows:
- Active ionization systems in every classroom and workspace in every school: These systems have a 99.4% kill rate for the virus and refresh the air about every 12 minutes, similar to the systems on airplanes. In addition to this, every other month, every school will be sprayed with an antimicrobial shield that lasts for 90 days.
- Site-based contact tracing: Coordinated by a central team of experts, every school has at least two staff members trained to identify any risk of spread when there are positive Covid cases in our schools.
- Rapid testing for staff and their families: OKCPS now has 7 locations where staff and members of their households (over the age of 18) can voluntarily access Covid testing, giving peace of mind when potential exposures occur.
McDaniel said it is important to take into account Gov. Kevin Stitt shifting teachers and school staff to Phase 2 of the state’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout plan. He said school officials will work closely with local health officials to plan the move forward.
“But the new information that we have learned in the last month means the responsible thing to do is to reduce our reliance on the color code system and safely begin to bring students back,” McDaniel said.
McDaniel said he knows families and teachers want consistency and certainty beyond January.
“I would have loved to lay out our whole second semester, but OCCHD has advised us against making decisions beyond January because of their forecasts of high transmission and hospitalizations throughout January,” he said.
However, McDaniel did say that he and school officials are tentatively planning to have 5th through 12th grade students return to a blended A/B setting on Feb. 1.
School officials will consult with OCCHD officials in the second half of January on whether they can proceed with that plan “based on the outcomes of the choices we make as a community over the next month,” McDaniel said.
“We will not consider a full-time return for students until it is safe to ease up on physical distancing in our classrooms,” he said.
Families who do not want their student to return to campus by Feb. 1 can reach out to their school and request a shift to the e3 Online Learning program, which is the school district’s fully virtual learning option.
“Please note that selecting e3 is a commitment through Spring Break for our students in grades PK-8 and through the end of the second semester for high school students,” McDaniel said.
McDaniel asks that teachers, students and families practice safety precautions against COVID-19 during the holidays.
“I encourage each of you to please remain vigilant in your own safety practices as well. Because there is one thing we can all agree on…we are all still in this together,” he said.
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