OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Most Oklahoma students are only days into the school year and many of them are already back at home, quarantining after COVID-19 exposure.
Meanwhile, parents and district officials say their hands are tied due to a new law prohibiting mask mandates in schools.
“I feel defeated, I feel discouraged,” said Danielle Colcher, who has three kids in Edmond Public Schools – a kindergartner, a first-grader and an eighth grader.
Just days into the school year, she’s been notified all three have been exposed to COVID – one of them multiple times.
“I don’t know what to do,” she said.
Colcher says while her eighth grader says he always wears masks, it’s harder for the little ones to hold themselves accountable.
“They’re only five and six,” Colcher told News 4. “They need to have guidelines.”
She’s talked to school officials and says they tell her their hands are tied because of recently-passed Senate Bill 658 – which prohibits districts from implementing mask mandates unless a state of emergency is in place.
“I think there’s still this idea that somehow this bill is protecting freedoms,” said State Sen. Carri Hicks, (D) Oklahoma. “Unfortunately, from my perspective, it’s dangerous.”
Hicks’ 5-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son experienced exposures in the Putnam City School District.
Her son has type-one diabetes.
“This entire 18-month period has been very nerve-wracking for our family knowing that it’s our job and our responsibility to protect him because his immune system can’t,” said Hicks.
She’s also concerned about the rising number of hospitalizations, limiting the availability for care for children like hers.
“My son is one that’s more prone to need emergency services on a regular year – outside of a pandemic and so should he need to go to the hospital there aren’t any beds available for him,” Hicks said.
In addition, she says going to school without mask requirements could lead to more quarantines and more consequences.
“We’re basically insisting on a constant disruption of not only our school environment but also our business environment because parents are going to have to take days off work in order to take care of our kiddos,” said Hicks.
Both mothers say action is needed.
“I’m calling on the governor to institute a health emergency,” said Hicks. “If the governor’s unwilling to act then Senate Bill 658 remains intact and basically eliminates any ways for families like to mine to feel safe sending our kids back to in-person school.”
“That bill – it’s going to kill people and I will not let it be one of my children,” Colcher said.
KFOR has reached out to the governor’s office for comment.