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Tulsa Public Schools will start with 100% distance learning if board approves recommendation next week

Tulsa Public Schools Superintendent Deborah Gist recommended starting the upcoming school year through 100% distance learning at a special board meeting Monday afternoon.

The district would return to a remote instruction format for the first nine weeks of the fall semester, which begins Aug. 31, if board members approve the recommendation next week. Unlike in the spring, however, students would be graded for their work and attendance would be counted.

Administrators would decide at some point whether schools will return to in-person instruction after the nine weeks or continue with distance learning.

Gist’s recommendation is one of three potential scheduling options that were made possible by the board’s recent implementation of an unprecedented, flexible schedule for the 2020-21 school year. The other options were starting the semester with in-person instruction and a hybrid of in-person and distance learning.

District administrators decided to recommend the 100% distance-learning format after receiving advice and data from health officials and advisers as well as the State Education Department concerning the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“This model is the one that is necessary given the spread we have in our community,” Gist said.

Monday’s announcement of the proposal comes about a week after Oklahoma City Public Schools approved its own plan to spend the first nine weeks of the school year in distance learning. Gist said the fact that the state’s largest district took this action did not influence her decision to pursue a similar recommendation.

The standard distance-learning format would not be the only option for students this fall. They also may sign up for the new Tulsa Virtual Academy, which the district implemented to give students additional choices amid the uncertainty surrounding the coming school year.

Andrea Castaneda, chief design and innovation officer for TPS, said families who want their child to return to in-person instruction as soon as possible may want to stick with regular distance learning. Those wanting their child to avoid the classroom for a semester or even a full year may want to select the Tulsa Virtual Academy.

Families will have until Aug. 10 to decide whether they want to sign up for the virtual program, which is more self-paced than the primary option.

“What we were working hard to do is provide very safe and differentiated options for our families,” Castaneda said.

“Our goal here is to not create conditions in which any family feels they are forced into only one mode but rather to give them a way to balance the two options against one another and choose the one that’s best for them.”

Gist said she does worry about the continued effect of additional remote instruction on students’ academic progress and social and emotional development. But, she added, the district needs to prioritize the safety of students, employees and families in the weeks ahead.

“When we were contemplating this decision, it was a very challenging situation to be in because we are weighing huge implications on the lives and well-being of our students, their families and our team members and their families,” Gist said. “And certainly we have to — and do — take into consideration the overall impact that not being physically in school has on our students.

“So on the one hand, we need to keep our students safe and their families safe — because we understand that students are not in as much of a medical danger with COVID as adults are, but we know that they can and do spread the coronavirus. So we have to think about the safety of their families and what that means for their mental health.”

The district reportedly has plans underway to provide support to families to make the distance-learning process as easy as possible.

Gist said these initial nine weeks would look a lot different from the district’s first encounter with remote instruction in the spring, which she called a crisis situation that allowed little time for planning.

In addition to requiring grades and daily attendance, the district expects students to be engaged in learning for a full school day instead of only a fraction of that time.

“We’re planning this year for a purposeful, full day of school,” said Danielle Neves, the district’s deputy chief of academics. “That does not mean the students are on a computer doing online activities or on Zoom for six hours a day, but it does mean that we are going to make sure students have a full day of learning developmentally paced throughout the day to be a mix of online activities and offline activities.”

Neves said school buildings will be open to an extent this fall for “managed and targeted use,” which includes teachers who need to work from the classroom.

Employees may be requested by their supervisors to work on-site to better provide instruction or other services — even digitally — to students.

Those who are unable to work for COVID-related reasons may be entitled to paid or unpaid leave, said Devin Fletcher, chief talent and learning officer.

Fletcher added that flexibility would be provided to allow remote work on a temporary basis where reasonably possible for employees who would otherwise need to take leave due to COVID-19.

“We want, to the greatest extent possible, to create flexibility so that our employees have peace of mind and, at the same time, balance in terms of ensuring that the work we must do on behalf of our students every day can be performed,” he said.

Exceptions to distance learning would be provided to special education students based on their level of need. Those with the greatest need would have the option of in-person support four days per week.

Students may also receive a combination of direct instruction with general education curriculum and specially designed instruction in a small-group setting delivered by a special education teacher.

The Tulsa school board will vote on the superintendent’s recommendation Aug. 3.


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Pelosi, others hail John Lewis as ‘conscience’ of Congress

WASHINGTON — In a solemn display of bipartisan unity, congressional leaders praised Democratic Rep. John Lewis as a moral force for the nation on Monday in a Capitol Rotunda memorial service rich with symbolism and punctuated by the booming, recorded voice of the late civil rights icon.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called Lewis the “conscience of the Congress” who was “revered and beloved on both sides of the aisle, on both sides of the Capitol.” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell praised the longtime Georgia congressman as a model of courage and a “peacemaker.”

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” McConnell, a Republican, said, quoting the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. “But that is never automatic. History only bent toward what’s right because people like John paid the price.”

Lewis died July 17 at the age of 80. Born to sharecroppers during Jim Crow segregation, he was beaten by Alabama state troopers during the civil rights movement, spoke ahead of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech at the 1963 March on Washington and was awarded the Medal of Freedom by the nation’s first Black president in 2011.

Dozens of lawmakers looked on Monday as Lewis’ flag-draped casket sat atop the catafalque built for President Abraham Lincoln. Several wiped away tears as the late congressman’s voice echoed off the marble and gilded walls. Lewis was the first Black lawmaker to lie in state in the Rotunda.

“You must find a way to get in the way. You must find a way to get in trouble, good trouble, necessary trouble,” Lewis intoned in a recorded commencement address he’d delivered in his hometown of Atlanta. “Use what you have … to help make our country and make our world a better place, where no one will be left out or left behind. ... It is your time.”

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus wore masks with the message “Good Trouble,” a nod to Lewis’ signature advice and the COVID-19 pandemic that has made for unusual funeral arrangements.

The ceremony was the latest in a series of public remembrances. Pelosi, who counted Lewis as a close friend, met his casket earlier Monday at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, and Lewis’ motorcade stopped at Black Lives Matter Plaza near the White House as it wound through Washington before arriving at the Capitol.

The Democratic speaker noted that Lewis, frail with cancer, had come to the newly painted plaza weeks ago to stand “in solidarity” amid nationwide protests against systemic racism and police brutality. She called the image of Lewis “an iconic picture of justice” and juxtaposed it with another image that seared Lewis into the national memory. In that frame, “an iconic picture of injustice,” Pelosi said, Lewis is collapsed and bleeding near the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, on March 7, 1965, when state troopers beat him and other Black Americans as they demanded voting rights.

Following the Rotunda service, Lewis’ body was moved to the steps on the Capitol’s east side in public view, an unusual sequence required because the pandemic has closed the Capitol to visitors.

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden paid his respects late Monday afternoon. The pair became friends over their two decades on Capitol Hill together and Biden’s two terms as vice president to President Barack Obama, who awarded Lewis the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011.

Notably absent from the ceremonies was President Donald Trump. Lewis once called Trump an illegitimate president and chided him for stoking racial discord. Trump countered by blasting Lewis’ Atlanta district as “crime-infested.” Trump said Monday that he would not go to the Capitol, but Vice President Mike Pence is scheduled to pay his respects.

Just ahead of the ceremonies, the House passed a bill to establish a new federal commission to study conditions that affect Black men and boys.

Born near Troy, Alabama, Lewis was among the original Freedom Riders, young activists who boarded commercial passenger buses and traveled through the segregated Jim Crow South in the early 1960s. They were assaulted and battered at many stops, by citizens and authorities alike. Lewis was the youngest and last-living of those who spoke on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial at the March on Washington.

The Bloody Sunday events in Selma two years later forged much of Lewis’ public identity. He was at the head of hundreds of civil rights protesters who attempted to march from the Black Belt city to the Alabama Capitol in Montgomery.

The marchers completed the journey weeks later under the protection of federal authorities, but then-Alabama Gov. George C. Wallace, an outspoken segregationist at the time, refused to meet the marchers when they arrived at the Capitol. President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 on Aug. 6 of that year.

Lewis spoke of those critical months for the rest of his life as he championed voting rights as the foundation of democracy, and he returned to Selma many times for commemorations at the site where authorities had brutalized him and others. “The vote is precious. It is almost sacred,” he said again and again. “It is the most powerful nonviolent tool we have in a democracy.”

The Supreme Court scaled back the seminal voting law in 2012; an overhauled version remains bottle-necked on Capitol Hill, with Democrats pushing a draft that McConnell and most of his fellow Republicans oppose. The new version would carry Lewis’ name.

Lewis crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge for the last time Sunday on a horse-drawn carriage before an automobile hearse transported him to the Alabama Capitol, where he lay in repose. He was escorted by Alabama state troopers, this time with Black officers in their ranks, and his casket stood down the hall from the office where Wallace had peered out of his window at the citizens he refused to meet.

After the memorial in Washington, Lewis’s body will return to Georgia. He will have a private funeral Thursday at Atlanta’s historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, which King once led.

COVID-19: 1,401 new cases another record high for Oklahoma; no deaths recently reported

For the second straight day, Oklahoma hit a new high for COVID-19 cases with 1,401 more positive tests, according to the Oklahoma State Department of Health.

Monday’s high-water mark brings the state to 32,686 cases since the pandemic began, but like Sunday’s previous record, the state identified no new deaths from COVID-19. Total deaths in the state remained at 496.

State officials did not return requests for comment about figures reported Monday.

State officials reported 637 hospitalizations as of Sunday. The number is a combination of hospitalized positive cases and hospitalized persons under investigation, as reported by hospitals at the time of the report, according to the Health Department.

There were 203 adult ICU beds available and 15.9 days’ worth of personal protective equipment on hand as of Sunday, the Health Department said.

Tulsa County also saw a spike with 355 new cases, breaking the previous county record of 261 set on July 6.

Oklahoma County has the most cases of any county in the state with 8,019 and 89 deaths, the Health Department said Monday. Tulsa County was second with 7,912 cases and 90 deaths, followed by Cleveland County with 2,170 cases and 41 deaths.

The state’s total cases by age group in percentage order are:

• 18-35, 36.06%

• 36-49, 21.75%

• 50-64, 17.57%

• 65+, 13.98%

• 5-17, 8.32%

• 0-4, 2.29%

• Unknown, 0.02%

Of Tulsa County’s 7,912 cases, 6,392 are considered recovered, according to the Health Department.

Oklahoma’s chief executive reported Monday that he has returned to work about 12 days after testing positive for the new coronavirus.

Gov. Kevin Stitt announced on July 15 that he tested positive for COVID-19.

Stitt said he quickly quarantined and sought testing and recommended that Oklahomans react similarly.

OSU Medicine offers online scheduling for drive-through COVID-19 testing at 1111 W. 17th St. To make an appointment, go to or call 918-281-2750. Testing through the Tulsa Health Department is also available by appointment at 918-582-9355.

See all of the Tulsa World's coverage related to the coronavirus outbreak​ at

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Agency votes today on 80 mph speed limit for portions of some toll roads across Oklahoma

OKLAHOMA CITY — The Oklahoma Turnpike Authority on Tuesday will consider raising the maximum speed limits to 80 mph on rural portions of some turnpikes.

The current maximum speed limit is 75 mph.

Among the areas proposed for the change is a 13-mile stretch of the Turner Turnpike in Creek County, from milepost 203 to milepost 216, within the newly constructed six-lane section that extends from Sapulpa to 6 miles east of Bristow.

The recent passage of House Bill 1071 set the stage for statewide studies on potential maximum speed limit increases to 80 mph on rural turnpikes and 75 mph on rural interstates that are not turnpikes.

The Oklahoma Turnpike Authority and the Oklahoma Transportation Commission considered several factors, including roadway geometry, sight distance, collision history, traffic flows, tolling operations, roadway surface and existing speed patterns before making their recommendations.

Existing maximum speed limits in urban areas will not change but could be considered in the future.

“We appreciate that our legislators recognized safety concerns needed to be forefront in this process,” said Oklahoma Transportation Secretary Tim Gatz. “Any increase in speed limits on interstates or highways must be carefully considered to ensure safety, and it’s not just a one-size-fits-all approach.”

Other turnpikes that are under consideration for speed limit increases to 80 mph include:

• The Muskogee Turnpike from milepost 2 to milepost 33, covering 31 miles from Broken Arrow to Muskogee.

• The Cherokee Turnpike, 25 miles from milepost 3 just west of Locust Grove to milepost 28 near Oklahoma 10.

• The Indian Nation Turnpike from milepost 93 to milepost 104, covering 11 miles from Interstate 40 to Oklahoma 9.

• The H.E. Bailey Turnpike (Norman Spur), approximately 5 miles from milepost 102 to milepost 107 from the H.E. Bailey Turnpike toward Norman.

• The Kickapoo Turnpike under construction in eastern Oklahoma County, approximately 19 miles from milepost 130 to milepost 149 from 1-40 to the Turner Turnpike.

Additionally, the Oklahoma Transportation Commission on Aug. 3 will consider increasing the speed limit to 75 mph on rural interstates that are not turnpikes.

Terri Angier, an Oklahoma Department of Transportation spokeswoman, said the following are under consideration:

• Interstate 40 from Shawnee east to the Arkansas border.

• Interstate 35 from the Logan County line to the Kansas border.

Some minor exceptions to certain portions of the roadways might apply, Angier said.

If the agencies approve the changes, it will be a while before new speed limit signs are posted, she said. She noted that the Oklahoma Highway Patrol will enforce existing speed limits until the new signs are in place.

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