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Three sites at Union Public Schools move to distance learning; 27 staff members in district are COVID-positive

Three sites at Union Public Schools move to distance learning; 27 staff members in district are COVID-positive

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Staffing issues exacerbated by COVID-19 have prompted another area district to move its high school students to distance learning.

On Wednesday morning, officials with Union Public Schools announced that all students in grades 9-12 will pivot to distance learning starting Thursday.

Along with Union High School, the switch also extends to the Union Freshman Academy and the district’s alternative education site. In-person instruction for the three campuses is scheduled to resume on Feb. 8.

“Due to significant teacher absences at the secondary level, we’ve reached the point where we do not have enough substitutes available to adequately cover classrooms at these grade levels,” Superintendent Kirt Hartzler said.

District spokesman Chris Payne said Union was unable to fill 23 substitute teacher requests on Wednesday alone, with some of the absences attributed to issues other than the pandemic.

According to data published by the district, seven employees have tested positive and an additional 26 are in quarantine between Union High School and Union Freshman Academy. Currently, there are no reported positive cases or people in quarantine at Union Alternative School. However, Payne said the site was included in the switch in part because many of its students also take classes at either Union High School or Union Freshman Academy.

In the interim, co-curricular activities will continue as scheduled. ACCESS testing, which is scheduled to run through Friday at Union High School, will continue as planned with social distancing measures in place. Meals will still be available for curbside pickup weekdays at Union High School from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

All other Union campuses will continue to have class in person. Districtwide, 1,007 students have either tested positive or are currently in quarantine, with the three sites in question accounting for 248 cases.

As of Wednesday, other area high schools currently in distance learning include Broken Arrow, Catoosa, Mannford, Muskogee and all of Tulsa Public Schools.

Although its high school remains open for now, officials with Bixby Public Schools also announced Wednesday afternoon that North Elementary School, as well as all sixth graders at East Intermediate, will pivot to distance learning for Thursday and Friday.

In a letter to families published on the district’s website, Superintendent Rob Miller wrote that almost 10% of the district’s students are either in isolation or quarantine as of noon Wednesday, with the numbers steadily increasing since Saturday.

“Additional school sites may also have to transition to distance learning if these negative trends continue,” he wrote. “Families should plan accordingly for potential disruptions to school over the next few weeks.”

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I am a third-generation graduate of Oklahoma State University and a board member for both Oklahoma SPJ and the Native American Journalists Association. When not chasing stories, I'm usually chasing my children or our pets.

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