OKC elementary schools to reopen next week
Oklahoma City elementary schools are on track to reopen Tuesday for the first time in two months.
Students in pre-K through fourth grade who are not enrolled in the e3 virtual curriculum will return to in-person classes, separated into either Tuesday-Thursday or Wednesday-Friday schedules. Rogers Elementary — which serves fourth, fifth and sixth graders — also will reopen.
Small groups of special education and alternative education students begin meeting on Tuesday, as well.
Oklahoma City Public Schools is considering having fifth through 12th grade students return Feb. 1 in the same A/B schedule, but district leaders say that date is not set in stone. These students are to remain fully in virtual learning until administrators finalize a time to return.
While Oklahoma City elementary schools reopen, Tulsa Public Schools will keep its doors closed. Tulsa schools announced Friday morning it would delay in-person learning until March 22.
In Oklahoma City, Superintendent Sean McDaniel has said he believes the district can conduct face-to-face classes safely with mask wearing, distancing and hand washing combined with new layers of safety.
The district installed ionization systems into the HVAC system of every elementary school, pre-K center and alternative school. Ionization will filter the air of every classroom and workspace by removing or destroying airborne viruses, bacteria and particles.
All middle and high schools will have ionization systems by Feb. 1, McDaniel said on Friday in a weekly COVID-19 update. Every other month, the district will have each school site sprayed with an antimicrobial shield that lasts 90 days.
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Each school will have two contact tracers. Additionally, the district will have seven testing sites where school staff and their families age 18 and older can voluntarily take a COVID-19 test.
The Oklahoma City-County Health Department voiced its approval of the district’s reopening.
“OCCHD fully supports going back in an A/B class format and continuing with the mitigation efforts that the schools in our county have achieved such as testing and environmental controls,” the agency said in a statement. “We are confident that by continuing with these efforts, each school has the tools necessary to manage their operations.”
Most schools in Oklahoma County are already open. A/B schedules have been common in the county's larger districts, including Putnam City, Edmond, Bethany and Deer Creek Public Schools.
Local health officials deviate from state quarantine policy
In contrast to a new state policy on school quarantines, the city-county health department said it “fully supports and recommends” the current quarantine and isolation guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC recommends anyone exposed to COVID-19 should quarantine for at least seven days with a negative test result or at least 10 days without a test.
The Oklahoma State Department of Health and Gov. Kevin Stitt announced Tuesday that schools with mask mandates could exempt students and staff from any quarantine if they were exposed in a classroom environment.
Oklahoma City schools, along with others around the metro and state, quickly reported they would not adopt the policy. McDaniel said it “deviates dramatically” from CDC guidelines and best practices for mitigating viral spread in schools.
City-county health officials said they will continue to support CDC recommendations “until scientific evidence fully supports doing otherwise.”
National research says data on COVID-19 transmission in schools is still inconclusive in areas with high rates of community spread, like Oklahoma.
The state Health Department referenced a new study from the American Academy of Pediatrics, which showed transmissions of COVID-19 were rare in North Carolina schools that reopened with mask mandates and other safety protocols.
But the Oklahoma Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics said this week the study reflects school districts that adopted strict measures against COVID-19. No statewide requirements exist for Oklahoma districts to mandate masks or other safety protocols.
“This is not consistent with the current COVID-19 surge in Oklahoma,” the Oklahoma Chapter said in a statement Wednesday. “In order to improve our current situation in Oklahoma, similar community measures that were used in North Carolina are needed, such as a statewide mask mandate, continued social distancing, limitations on indoor gatherings, and required mitigation strategies in schools.”