Yukon superintendent gets honest about tough choices during COVID-19 pandemic

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YUKON, Okla. (KFOR) – An Oklahoma superintendent is getting honest with parents about the difficulty he experienced while planning for the school year during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A letter written by the superintendent for Yukon Public Schools is garnering praise online as he discusses the sleepless nights spent worrying about the safety of students and staff.

Right now, the district is offering two options to families; either going online all year or a continuous learning plan where students start online and then move into the classroom when it is safe.

“There’s no good answer, there really isn’t,” said Dr. Jason Simeroth. “It is the lesser of two evils.”

Simeroth is discussing the plan to start his district’s school year entirely online.

In a letter to parents and staff, the superintendent explained that making decisions for the safety of 9,000 students and 1,500 staff members is agonizing and has been keeping him up at night.

For Yukon Public Schools, even the summer off has been tough.

“We continue to see cases every day, four to five reports on our hotline from staff, sometimes students but that’s every day we’re seeing that,” he said. 

Knowing that an outbreak and school shutdown can happen quickly, Yukon schools decided it’s best to start online and re-evaluate the community’s number of COVID-19 cases in October.

While he says it’s to keep students and staff safe, he also knows the financial impact ongoing school shutdowns can have on families.

“Telling parents overnight they have to find daycare for the next 10 days and that could be just a rollercoaster thing that would just be on and on when we start back to school,” said Simeroth. 

He says whether in-class, fully virutal or moving to a blended schedule, the decisions during the COVID-19 pandemic are tough for all administrators.

“Every one of us, it’s a gut-wrenching experience when you have to decide the fate of young people and the communities,” Simeroth said. 

At the end of his letter he asked for just one thing.

“We’re people people, we’re humans, we have families,” he said  “We ask for patience, grace mercy and understanding that we’re doing the best we can and we’re doing it for the sake of the students.”

Yukon Public Schools is providing all the technology needed for virtual learning thanks to past bond issues. It will also be providing nutritional services and counseling.

You can read Simeroth’s letter below:

“As you may or may not know, I am a superintendent of a public school district and have been doing this job for the last twelve years in two districts. I only bring that up to say that making decision is not a new thing. I work with my team to find answers and we implement the solution. For me, finding an answer to a problem is one of the best parts of my role as superintendent. Right now, that is what keeps me awake at night, every night. In this situation, I can’t find an answer because the question changes every day. Agonizing over how every little thing will affect 9,000 students and 1,500 employees as well as their families, dominates my day and keeps me awake at night.

In the last two weeks, we have had students, teachers, administrative staff, district staff, support staff, construction staff, our library book company staff and cabinet supply company staff diagnosed as COVID positive causing us to shut down numerous groups as we simply try to plan. So, to think that we are able to bring all of our students, or even 75% of students back to school and not shut down within a week is just not feasible. If we were in school, we would have an outbreak at the current rate of exposure overnight.

I know that day cares and sports teams are operating. I know that parents have to work and find day care for which they didn’t plan. I know, I get it, I really do. I also know that with the unpredictability of this disease and the precious students for which I am ultimately responsible, the decision to delay traditional schooling is the only option that I can make. It does not help alleviate my stress or get any more sleep, but it’s the right thing to do today. There are far too many variables that will risk the lives of students, parents, grandparents, teachers, etc. This 6,7, or 8 degrees of separation, or in this case contact, goes on and on and on.

The decision to cancel traditional school and use a virtual setting is ultimately my responsibility and therefore I am the one to shoulder the blame. The school board and the district staff are working to make this a real educational experience that will continue to advance the learning of our students on a daily basis. Our staff has been preparing for this since the state canceled school in March. Ensuring that real-time and on-demand learning is ready on a daily basis has been our priority for instructional planning. The district has also been making plans for providing food service, investing in technology for every student, professional development for teachers and support staff, facial coverings (for when we do return), cleaning supplies, ect… Our hearts were prepared and expectant to come back to school in August. However, our state and our country is not.

I can live with people mad at me, I can live with being wrong, I can live with losing my job, I can live with all those scenarios… if I have done so in an effort to protect the people for whom I am responsible.”

Yukon Superintendent Dr. Jason Simeroth

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