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State Board of Education again leaves mask issue to local districts despite push from Oklahoma physicians, child advocacy group

State Board of Education again leaves mask issue to local districts despite push from Oklahoma physicians, child advocacy group


Some students wear masks but others don’t as they line up at recess on the first day of school at Broken Arrow’s new Rosewood Elementary School on Sept. 3.

Three Oklahoma physicians and a child advocacy group pleaded with the Oklahoma State Board of Education on Thursday for a statewide mandate for face masks in public schools, but the board left the matter up to local decision-makers.

The Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy recently launched a $15,000 billboard advertising campaign and an online petition drive calling for a change of heart by a majority of state board members, who voted in late July to make safety protocols only “strong recommendations,” not requirements.

Three medical doctors from around the state spoke in support of the push for a statewide mandate, but ultimately, the board voted unanimously to adopt a resolution that “implores Oklahoma school boards and district superintendents to require students and staff to wear face masks on public school campuses and within district vehicles, and especially when in classrooms or other large gatherings.”

Oklahoma City-based Dr. Steve Crawford, co-chair of the Oklahoma Academy of Family Physicians’ legislative committee, said he has been helping guide many local school districts with guidelines to reopen safely.

“We do know now that masks absolutely make a difference in diminishing the transmission of this infection,” Crawford said, saying the most important safety tactic for holding in-person classes is masking, “and that’s down to kindergartners and younger.”

“I fear if we don’t do this, our schools will close,” Crawford said.

Dr. Dwight Sublett, a pediatrician who has worked for 37 years in Stillwater, said he is concerned that infected young children, who are commonly “nonsymptomatic or only mildly symptomatic,” may be spreading coronavirus to their own families and their teachers.

“It is time that we readdress this issue. I strongly encourage you to reconsider your vote on this matter,” Sublett said.

“We now know that if we use a multilayer cloth mask, it is effective not only for large droplets but also smaller droplets. We can reduce (transmission) by 70 percent,” he said. “I think we can save some lives along the way, too.”

Dr. David Kendrick, who practices internal medicine and pediatrics in Tulsa and operates a health information exchange system that connects hospitals, clinics, labs and tribes across the state, showed the board maps and charts documenting the dramatic uptick in the rate of rise in positive COVID tests and higher rates of cases in municipalities without masking mandates as compared to those with mandates.

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Staff Writer

I'm a projects reporter, examining key education topics and other local issues. Since joining the Tulsa World in 1999, I have been a three-time winner of Oklahoma’s top award for investigative reporting by an individual. Phone: 918-581-8470

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