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Opinion: New Oklahoma guidelines aim at keeping kids in classrooms

Oklahoma Health Commissioner Dr. Lance Frye [Chris Landsberger/The Oklahoman]
Oklahoma Health Commissioner Dr. Lance Frye [Chris Landsberger/The Oklahoman]

Gov. Kevin Stitt announced new guidelines last week designed to get school children back into classrooms and keep them there. Reception has been lukewarm at best, but kids need to be in school.

Under the revised guidance, potentially exposed students and teachers will not have to quarantine for two weeks so long as the schools have enforced the use of masks and social distancing, and the students are not showing symptoms. The change doesn't apply if someone is exposed during an after-school activity, including sports. Anyone who tests positive must continue to isolate regardless where they contracted the virus or were wearing a mask.

The plan also involves getting COVID-19 vaccinations as soon as possible to teachers 65 and older. In addition, the number of tests provided to schools will be doubled, to encourage regular testing. More masks and personal protective equipment will be provided.

Stitt said his hope is that the new guidelines will help encourage mask wearing in schools. Local school districts decide where and when to use masks.

“Parents need an option to get their kids back in school,” Stitt said.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and others have said being away from school adversely affects children’s social, emotional and behavioral health. On the academic side, a report in November from the American Medical Association said 24.2 million children age 5-11 attended public schools that closed during the pandemic last year, “losing a median of 54 days of instruction.” That’s not good.

Ryan Walters, the state’s education secretary and a former teacher, said young people “struggle with virtual learning … students need classroom support.” Not having it, Walters said, “takes a toll on both their mental health and the physical well-being of these students.”

Oklahoma City schools spent most of the first semester with virtual learning. Superintendent Sean McDaniel said some students didn’t log in even one time prior to the district returned briefly to classrooms briefly.

The district, however, is among many in the metro area and elsewhere that say they will not alter their existing protocols. The Oklahoma City district plans to bring pre-K through fourth-graders back to classrooms twice per week beginning Tuesday. Fifth- through 12th-graders are to return the week of Feb. 1. Heightened safety measures will be used, including mandatory mask usage for all students, staff and visitors.

Health Commissioner Dr. Lance Frye said Oklahoma is adopting an approach to quarantines that has been used successfully by other states. “It’s critical for schools to open safely and quickly,” Frye said.

Stitt noted that the Broken Arrow school district had 66 days of in-person classes during the fall semester. Meantime, he said, high school students in the Tulsa district have not been in a classroom in more than 300 days.

“We need to put our students first,” he said. “We need to get them back in the classroom.” That sentiment, certainly, is on the mark.


Opinion editor Owen Canfield is in his 18th year writing editorials for The Oklahoman and has spent nearly 40 years in journalism. Email him at or call (405) 740-7624. Support his work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a print or digital subscription at

Owen Canfield III

Owen Canfield has written editorials for The Oklahoman since 2003. Prior to that, he spent 19 years with The Associated Press in Oklahoma City. He is a 1981 graduate of the University of Oklahoma. He and his wife, Lori, have four children. Read more ›