“We know exactly what COVID is capable of,” Oklahoma school districts preparing to open doors as COVID-19 cases continue to rise

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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – School districts across the state are preparing for in-person learning this fall, all while COVID-19 cases continue to climb.

“Last year, we had a fear of the unknown. But this year I think it’s a fear of the known because we know exactly what COVID is capable of,” said Mallory Cheatwood, Shawnee Public Schools Counselor.

“Teachers, they are concerned about their kids. They are concerned about their students’ health,” said Katherine Bishop, Oklahoma Education Association President.

Deer Creek Superintendent, Dr. Jason Perez says the district is hoping to make this fall as normal as possible, but increasing COVID-19 numbers could threaten that.

“Both us and many districts are gonna follow a lot of the same protocols that we did last year. Where you gotta look at each situation individually and be able to conduct your contact tracing,” Perez said.

Some teachers say they are concerned about returning without a mask mandate.

“Oh sure. Of course, we have. Just like we have parents that are concerned. I have concerns as well,” Perez said.

And they’re not the only ones.

“One of the real concerns that we have this year is the fact that there is no mask mandate. I kinda feel like with legislation hands are tied across districts,” Cheatwood said.

Senate Bill 658 was signed into law by Gov. Stitt back in May and prevents school districts from requiring masks.

Arkansas also passed a similar bill but on Tuesday, the state’s governor voicing regrets as cases climb.

“In hindsight, I wish that it had not become law,” said Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson.

And on Friday, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed an executive order withholding state funds from schools with mask mandates.

“But let me tell you this: if you’re coming after the rights of parents in Florida, I’m standing in your way. I’m not gonna let you get away with it,” DeSantis said.

We asked Governor Stitt’s office on Thursday if schools were to disobey Senate Bill 658, would there be consequences?

We were sent this response–

“As the governor has stated repeatedly, Oklahomans have the freedom to wear masks wherever they choose, and nothing is stopping school districts from recommending or encouraging their use. Oklahomans support the rule of law and Governor Stitt is confident that all laws will be followed.”

“Districts need the ability to be consulting with their health officials and determining when universal masking is needed,” Bishop said. “Right now, their hands are tied.”

As we told you earlier this week, Oklahoma Democrats are calling for a special session to repeal Senate Bill 658.

The governor’s office tells us today he stands by his decision to sign the bill into law.

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