When Tulsa Public Schools staff and students come back from Thanksgiving break on Nov. 29, there will be some adjustments to the district’s COVID-19 protocols.
As part of a staff report during Monday night’s school board meeting, Superintendent Deborah Gist and TPS Chief Financial and Operations Officer Jorge Robles laid out the planned changes, including a timetable for rolling back the district’s masking policy barring an uptick in COVID-19 cases among the district’s staff and students.
“We will continue to monitor the data and work with health care experts,” Robles said. “If the trends change and we get advice that we would be safer to put some of those practices back in place, we will take those steps if necessary.”
Starting Nov. 29, the district will no longer expect masks indoors at district office sites or its five standalone high school campuses: Booker T. Washington, East Central, Nathan Hale, McLain and Memorial.
Citing a desire to give families more time to access pediatric vaccine doses, students attending an elementary, middle or junior high school or one of the district’s four combined middle and high school campuses will still have to wear masks on campus through Jan. 4.
“For our buildings where we have our elementary school students or buildings where we have sixth grade students in particular, … we want to wait until the start of the year to give them a few weeks to be able to go through the vaccination process,” Gist said.
Due to a federal mask mandate for public transportation, students and staff will still be required to wear masks on school buses.
Additionally, starting Nov. 29, TPS will allow parents to volunteer inside school buildings. Parents will not be allowed in schools to volunteer if they are symptomatic and will be encouraged to wear a mask if they are not vaccinated.
The district will continue to publish updated COVID case counts weekly and will still require students and staff who test positive to isolate at home. However, after Thanksgiving break, exposed students and staff will not be required to quarantine unless they become symptomatic.
When asked by board member Jerry Griffin about the decision to launch the changes after two holiday breaks rather than immediately, Gist said it was in order to provide enough time for site leaders to brief their staffs about the impending changes.
“It’s more than just the masks,” she said. “It’s changes to other protocols. We need to give them time to communicate with their teams.”
Meanwhile, on the information agenda, the board got its first look at resolutions to change the grade configurations at the elementary and junior high campuses within the Hale and East Central feeder patterns, as well as at two alternative sites.
As presented, starting with the 2022-23 school year, the 16 elementary schools across those feeder patterns would go through fifth grade rather than sixth grade. Those sixth graders would instead attend East Central and Nathan Hale junior high schools, which would become middle schools.
Elementary schools that would be affected by that proposed adjustment include Bell, Cooper, Disney, Dolores Huerta, Hamilton, Hoover, Kendall-Whittier, Kerr, Lewis and Clark, Lindbergh, MacArthur, Mitchell, McKinley, Owen, Peary and Skelly.
A similar shift is also proposed for Project Accept TRAICE Elementary School and Tulsa MET Junior High School.
If the changes are approved, all of the district’s elementary schools would go through fifth grade. With TPS’ 2022-23 enrollment window opening in early January, the proposals are slated to go before the board for approval in December.
Prior to the pandemic, the district had considered adjusting some of its elementary schools to a prekindergarten through eighth grade model in an effort to minimize the number of student transitions. However, Gist said the district is setting those efforts aside.
“We would have to have the capacity to take on the project of having a whole new way of managing a new grade configuration we don’t have, she said.
“Even though there are some examples nationwide, it’s not as simple as just having an elementary school and a middle school in the same building. It’s a whole model that has to be built out differently.”
Aug. 9 video: Tulsa Public Schools superintendent on masks for 2021-22 school year