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Opinion: OKC district right to pursue return to school

With any luck, far more Oklahoma City Public School students will be attending class in school buildings during the second semester than did so during the fall. District officials are working on making it happen.

Most of the first semester saw students learning remotely due to COVID-19. Pre-K and kindergarten students went back to in-school learning in October but that lasted just a few weeks. All other students returned in November, but after one week buildings were closed again due to rising positive cases.

The district is planning a phased return for 2021, beginning with two weeks of remote learning. The week of Jan. 19 will see the return of pre-K through fourth-grade students, with some students on site Tuesdays and Thursdays, and others on site Wednesdays and Fridays. All classes will be virtual on Mondays.

The district hopes to bring fifth- through 12th-grade students back into classrooms the week of Feb. 1.

Superintendent Sean McDaniel said he “would have loved to lay out our whole second semester,” but the city-county health department advised against making decisions past January because of forecasts of high transmission rates throughout the month.

Other metro-area districts held in-person classes at least two days per week during the first semester and plan to continue doing so.

Oklahoma City Public Schools needs to do the same if possible, to benefit the students academically but also socially. Most children desperately need in-person contact with their teachers, and they need to be around their peers in the classroom, on the playground and in the cafeteria.

The district will require all students, staff and visitors to wear a mask. It is installing equipment in each school and classroom to remove airborne viruses, bacteria and particles. Two trained contact tracers at each school will evaluate risk of spread when cases arise.

The district also will have rapid COVID-19 tests available at seven testing sites for school staff and household family members 18 and older who may wish to be tested.

Teachers concerned about a return received good news recently when the state announced teachers and staff are moving up to Phase 2 of the state’s vaccine rollout plan. A priority will be placed on older teachers or those with co-morbidities. How soon Oklahoma gets to Phase 2 will depend on how frequently the state receives vaccine shipments and how many of the roughly 158,000 Oklahomans in Phase 1 want to be vaccinated.

State schools Superintendent Joy Hofmeister noted after announcement of the vaccine lineup change that teachers “are the heart and soul of our school community …”

“Allowing teachers to be among the top priority to get the COVID-19 vaccine is a tremendous move toward protecting the health of our hardworking teachers,” she said.

And it’s good news for the Oklahoma City district’s 45,000 students, who so badly need to return to the classroom.

The Oklahoman Editorial Board

The Oklahoman Editorial Board consists of Kelly Dyer Fry, Publisher, Editor and Vice President of News; Owen Canfield, Opinion Editor; and Ray Carter, Chief Editorial Writer.. To submit a letter to the editor, go to this page or email... Read more ›