The logistics are taking shape and the protocols are in place as Tulsa Public Schools prepares to bring students back on campus in less than a week.
“We’ve been completely committed to bringing our students back in person as soon as possible,” Superintendent Deborah Gist said. “That’s not necessarily the same thing as waiting until it is ideal.”
The timeline approved by the school board Tuesday night was not released to the public prior to the meeting due to the timing of new guidance issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regarding in-person instruction. That guidance was issued Friday, prompting district officials to pore over it during President’s Day weekend and hold off on their own announcement.
On Wednesday, Gist acknowledged that the recent inclement weather also had some impact on her recommendation’s timetable for bringing students back into the classroom in less than a week, but pointed out that the district’s teachers have mostly been teaching in their classrooms the entire school year.
“Our teachers have been teaching in the classroom since August, so I don’t think there’s a readiness issue there,” she said. “We did get some feedback from teachers about that they would normally be using these snowy, icy days to learn who is on their class roster and get prepared. That’s the reason for the delay and transition time.”
Tuesday will be the first day of in-person instruction for Tier 3 and 4 special education students; all fourth-, fifth-, sixth- and ninth-grade students as well as seventh-grade students at the district’s junior high campuses.
The following Thursday will be the first day of in-person instruction for all other grades. Wednesdays will remain a distance learning day for all students.
Families will still have the option to keep their students in distance learning, which district officials reiterated during Tuesday night’s school board meeting will rely more on recorded lessons rather than real-time Zoom calls.
The deadline to make that selection through the district’s website is Friday, although there will be opportunities later in the semester to switch to in-person instruction or vice versa. A district spokeswoman said those windows are still being determined.
Meal service will still be available for students in distance learning or enrolled at Tulsa Virtual Academy. Students enrolled at Tulsa Virtual Academy for the second semester will remain there through the end of the school year.
Along with mask and social-distancing requirements for staff and students, other Covid-19 mitigation efforts will be in place when students return to the classroom.
Merv-13 filters have been installed in the ventilation systems at all campuses. According to the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers, filters at that level are able to catch and control most airborne bacteria and sneeze nuclei.
As a supplemental measure, air scrubbers are also being installed in some district classrooms. An air scrubber is a device that can be attached directly to the ventilation ductwork and removes airborne contaminants.
Additionally, work is underway to schedule additional vaccination clinics for the district’s employees. Starting Monday, teachers and support staff younger than age 65 will be eligible to get vaccinated through the Oklahoma State Department of Health.
“We are very glad that the state is going to allow us to begin vaccinating teachers next week, but we need people to realize that that is going to take time,” Gist said. “The state only gets a certain amount of vaccine doses at any given time, plus there are teachers in the 65-and-older group who need their second shots. This will be a multi-week process to get the vaccines and make them available to our team members.”
Meanwhile, free child care options will still be available for TPS families after in-person classes resume.
Thanks in part to a $1.4 million allocation of CARES Act money from Tulsa County, the Opportunity Project has helped coordinate efforts among the Tulsa Parks Department, YMCA, the Boys and Girls Club and other entities to provide safe, supervised spaces for local students in distance learning during the work day.
In a written statement, Caroline Shaw with the Opportunity Project confirmed Wednesday afternoon that the majority of its partner agencies will continue to provide space for students on the district’s distance learning days. A smaller number will remain available for families that choose not to go back to in-person instruction.
“As always, the Opp’s focus is bringing community resources together to efficiently support Tulsa County youth with engaging educational experiences provided by caring adults in a safe environment,” she said.