Fourth grade teacher Shellee Reed hands out distance learning items to students at John Hope Franklin Elementary School on the first day of statewide distance learning due to the COVID-19 outbreak Monday, April 6, 2020. MIKE SIMONS/Tulsa World

Tulsa Public Schools have been out for the summer since COVID-19 brought an uneasy end to the academic year, but district leaders, teachers and staff have been working “around the clock” to figure out what classes will look like for the next one.

Superintendent Deborah Gist made that comment Wednesday during a live video conference with Chief Learning Officer Ebony Johnson and Director of Title I Natalie Hutto while discussing TPS’s Tulsa Virtual Academy offerings and addressing questions from parents.

Enrollment in the virtual academy for the 2020-21 school year begins Friday, Gist announced, and those interested in registering will be able to do so at tulsaschools.org/virtual.

The three described the virtual academy as just that: virtual.

“Everything in the virtual academy is virtual,” Gist emphasized.

Offered for preschoolers through 12th grade, Tulsa Virtual Academy is an option for families who may feel uncomfortable sending their child to a school during a pandemic, they said. Officials aim for its focus to remain on individualized, quality education, and Gist promised a lower student-to-teacher ratio than other virtual academies can offer.

Students who enroll in the virtual academy would have an option to change their minds between semesters, but outside that, Gist said unless an emergency situation warrants it, students will not be allowed to switch every-so-often between the virtual academy and in-person learning or whatever the district will be offering as an alternative to the virtual academy. This is to ensure that each would be adequately staffed.

The deadline for students to enroll in the virtual academy is Aug. 10, a week after the district’s school board will decide in what other form classes will be offered, which will give parents time to learn about each and make a decision, Gist said.

Many details of the virtual academy are not yet settled, such as what a day in the life of a virtual academy pre-K student would look like, but the three were confident that the academy could fully serve students and maybe even serve them better than in-person classes.

If high school students, for example, want to continue their extracurricular activities in person, they can visit with their school’s counselor to work out a hybrid schedule, Gist said.

Organizers are working now with middle school leaders to see if the same can be applied to their students.

Hutto said every student in the virtual academy will receive a Chromebook; Canvas will be the class management system used. Johnson said teachers who will participate in the virtual academy haven’t all been chosen yet, but the classes would follow the schools’ typical curriculum.

The officials also emphasized that students who enroll in the virtual academy will stay enrolled at their own schools.

“You’re not making a choice to separate yourself from that school community,” Gist said.

The goal is not to have students glued to their computer screens for hours on end but to incorporate time with teachers with time for off-screen activities and check-ins and deadlines with flexibility.

And for in-school learning, the plan is still up in the air, but Gist said for certain “there will be mask-wearing in our schools by nearly everyone.” The hiccup is at which age to begin requiring them and waiting on the city’s proposed mask ordinance for guidance, she said before the City Council approved one Wednesday night.

“Masks are absolutely proven to help us prevent the spread of the coronavirus,” Gist said, encouraging residents to wear the masks to get a cap on skyrocketing infections. “We want our kids back in school, so let’s put those masks on,” she said.

For information on the Tulsa Virtual Academy and for FAQs, visit tulsaschools.org/virtual.


Kelsy Schlotthauer



Twitter: @K_Schlott

Staff Writer

Kelsy graduated Oklahoma State University with a degree in multimedia journalism and joined the Tulsa World in 2019. She covers breaking news and is passionate about people, social justice and law enforcement. Phone: (918) 581-8455

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