OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – As hundreds of thousands of Oklahoma students head back to the classroom, health experts have discussed concerns about the possibility of COVID-19 cases climbing across the state among school-aged 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.
As COVID-19 cases continue to spread, school leaders and health experts said their concerns are growing about the possibility of the virus impacting classrooms across the state.
“I’m very, very angry about the idea that children are going to be exposed to a virus five times more contagious than the one we masked everyone for last year,” said Norman Public School Board member Linda Sexton at a Monday night meeting. “I want to pursue the legal avenues that we have to defy Gov. Stitt.”
Despite the concerns, most public school districts say they have no plans to break the law.
On Wednesday, the superintendent of Santa Fe South Charter Schools announced that the district would be implementing a mask mandate for students.
The public charter school district posted the following note on its website:
“As of Thursday, August 12, masks will be required of all students and staff while at school or at school
related activities, whenever indoors and in close contact (3-5 feet for more than 15 minutes.) Exemptions will be made only for those who have a physician’s documentation stating that wearing of a mask is not recommended for that individual. This requirement will also apply for all guests on campus and at all activities and events. We will strictly enforce this at all times. Again, this is a requirement, and should not be considered optional for anyone at any time, unless they have confirmation from their physician that mask-wearing is not required. Students or parents who refuse will be offered the opportunity to receive on-line instruction. Any personnel or parents who have an issue with this requirement are to contact me directly via email.”
At this point, it is unclear if public charter schools are required to follow the same guidelines as public schools in Oklahoma.
Superintendent Joy Hofmeister had this to say Wednesday, “We recognize that the safety and well-being of children and staff should be the top priority for all Oklahoma district leaders and school boards. At the same time, we expect all schools to comply with state laws currently in effect.”
However, Superintendent Chris Brewster says he believes that it is up to the district to protect students in their care.
“If we do not do our part against this virus, it will continue to evolve into more variants, making overall
community health much more challenging. The science around this pandemic is continuing to rapidly
evolve. I personally appreciate how difficult it is, sometimes, to ignore the impact of social media,
personal biases, and limited/false information that floods our lives. I pledge to you that I will strive to
only make decisions that are based on the recommendations of healthcare officials and in line with the
science that directs these decisions.
We are in for a few weeks of rough water in relation to Covid-19. We will do everything we can to keep
our community safe and our schools open. The only thing more certain than the potential harm of
Covid-19 is the absolute harm of not being able to educate our kids.
I have carefully considered the ramifications of both requiring masks and in not requiring them. I am
aware that I am personally responsible for either decision. Among many reasons for requiring masks is
that we have a number of immune-compromised students and staff who must be protected. We even
have several of our most precious ones, those on IEP’s and the very youngest, who have very little
personal protection against the virus.
If this decision keeps a single member of our community from suffering serious health issues or death, it
is worth it a thousand times over.
I am confident in the collective power and incredible ability of our SFS community. Thank you for all youSanta Fe South Schools Superintendent Chris Brewster
are doing to get us through this next phase of the pandemic.”