Seven more area school districts have called off in-person classes for Friday.
Citing rising absence rates, officials with Broken Arrow, Keys, Liberty, Oologah-Talala, Stillwater, Tahlequah and Verdigris all announced Thursday that they will not have in-person classes at any of their campuses on Friday.
Broken Arrow, Keys, Liberty and Tahlequah will have virtual instruction on Friday, while Stillwater, Verdigris and Oologah-Talala will not.
Broken Arrow previously moved all secondary students to distance learning. Even with that shift, BAPS still had 441 employees absent Thursday due to illness. The district also had more than 400 reported cases of COVID-19 among its students Thursday morning.
Those issues were echoed by Stillwater Public Schools. In an email to parents, interim Superintendent Gay Washington noted that thanks to a combination of rising COVID-19 cases, seasonal illnesses and other closures in and around Payne County, her district had 93 employees absent Thursday, making it difficult to continue offering in-person instruction.
“Individual sites and the district as a whole have exceeded school board approved protocols for staff absences that would justify considering closing sites,” she wrote.
With Stillwater’s announcement Thursday afternoon, 17 of the state’s 20 largest traditional public school districts will have at least one campus either in distance learning or completely shut down Friday due to staff and student absences. As of Thursday evening, the three exceptions are Moore, Enid and Bartlesville.
Liberty Public Schools’ decision came Thursday night at an emergency meeting of the southern Tulsa County school district’s board.
Under the terms of Liberty’s Return to Learn plan, moving to distance learning has to come before the school board as soon as possible if the Tulsa County Health Department’s ZIP code map has 74047 listed as an extreme severe risk or higher for the spread of COVID-19. As of Wednesday, that ZIP code, which includes the district’s campus and administration office, is listed at extreme severe risk II.
Liberty Superintendent Phil Garland said Thursday afternoon that the decision to even consider making such a move was not made lightly. However, with almost one-third of its high school students absent on Thursday and the district “teeter-tottering” on having enough staff to cover classrooms, Garland said the students and staff would be better served by making the temporary switch.
“We respect that many parents have to work and not everyone is able to do that from home,” he said, noting that many of Liberty’s employees have school-age children attending neighboring districts that are already in distance learning.
“It was definitely a consideration, as this is not something we just do without thinking it through,” Garland said. “We know that this impacts more than just our operations.”
Liberty’s administration does not plan to make a decision about Tuesday’s classes until Monday.
Additionally, as of 5 p.m. Thursday, 19 Tulsa Public Schools campuses will be entirely in distance learning on Friday. They include Carnegie, Cooper, Council Oak, Eisenhower, Eliot, Hoover, Kendall-Whittier, Lindbergh, McClure, Owen, Sequoyah, Wayman Tisdale, and Whitman elementary schools, Unity Learning Academy, Memorial Middle School, Hale High School and Tulsa MET.
The other two, Webster Middle and High School and TPS’ partnership school, Greenwood Leadership Academy, had announced Wednesday that they would not have in-person classes Thursday or Friday due to staff absences.
Seven additional elementary schools will partially be in distance learning Thursday, as Burroughs, Celia Clinton, Eugene Field, Grissom, Kerr, Mayo Demonstration and Skelly still each have at least one grade out due to staff absences.
Also citing staff absences, Union Public Schools is moving five elementary schools to distance learning Friday: Cedar Ridge, Grove, Jarman, Jefferson and Ellen Ochoa. As of Wednesday afternoon, 36 employees among those five sites had tested positive for COVID-19.
In the announcement, Union district officials said a decision had not been made about when in-person classes will resume.
All Union secondary sites were already in distance learning until Tuesday.
Staff absences have also prompted Owasso Public Schools to suspend in-person classes Friday for its high school, Ram Academy, 8th Grade Center and 7th Grade Center. More than 200 OPS employees were absent Thursday, and only three sites district-wide had staff absence rates below 20%, according to a letter from interim Superintendent Margaret Coates.
Owasso’s Hodson Elementary School was already in distance learning until next week. Owasso is not in session Monday or Tuesday, thanks to Martin Luther King Jr. Day and a previously scheduled professional development day. A decision has not been made about Wednesday’s classes.
Collinsville Public Schools also announced a distance-learning pivot Thursday afternoon due to staff absences. The district’s high school and middle school will not have in-person classes Friday and are tentatively slated to resume in-person instruction on Tuesday.
Catoosa Public Schools was already scheduled to be out Friday and Monday. Citing staff absences, interim Superintendent Rick Kibbe and incoming Superintendent Robert Schornick issued a joint announcement Thursday afternoon that the Rogers County district will not be in session Tuesday due to staffing issues.
Other area schools already in distance learning until Tuesday include Claremore’s Will Rogers Junior High School, KIPP Tulsa’s middle school campus, five Jenks Public Schools sites and all of Allen Bowden, Berryhill, Bixby, Coweta, Glenpool, Mounds, Pawhuska, Sand Springs and Sapulpa public schools.