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Tulsa Public Schools will start school year through distance learning, school board decides

Tulsa Public Schools will start school year through distance learning, school board decides


Tulsa Public Schools will start the upcoming school year through remote instruction after board members approved the superintendent’s plan Monday evening.

Most students will spend the first nine weeks of the 2020-21 school year, which begins Aug. 31, engaged in distance learning due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Superintendent Deborah Gist made the recommendation last week in accordance with guidance from health and state education officials who warned that conditions in Tulsa don’t allow for the safe return of students to classrooms at this point.

Full distance learning was one of three potential scheduling options that were made possible by the board’s recent implementation of an unprecedented, flexible schedule for the coming school year. The other options were starting the semester with in-person instruction and a hybrid of in-person and distance learning.

Gist said administrators wrestled with the decision and the realization that each option presented its own implications and downsides for employees, students and families. She called it a painful process that was grounded in empathy as well as science and data.

Tulsa County has experienced the second highest number of COVID-19 cases in the state since the start of the pandemic, trailing only Oklahoma County.

“I’m confident in this decision that you have before you as a recommendation, and it holds up on recent data, unfortunately,” Gist told board members before the vote. “We know also — and it’s something we don’t want to lose sight of — that this disease affects people of color significantly, and I would say in Oklahoma specifically, that has had a big impact on Native Americans.”

Additionally, the superintendent referenced a statement from the Oklahoma Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Oklahoma Academy of Family Physicians in which the groups said they couldn’t support a statewide return to school in August.

“While some counties may have extremely low rates of spread, others have growing numbers of positive cases or consistently high positive test rates indicating that community spread is uncontrolled and testing is not yet sufficiently reaching all infected people,” the statement reads. “These factors suggest that opening all schools to in-person learning may not be the right choice at this time.”

Tulsa City-County Health Department Director Bruce Dart also addressed the board during the meeting and said current health and safety data is showing that Tulsa probably won’t flatten the curve before school starts. He said board members had a “courageous choice” ahead of them in voting for distance learning over in-person instruction.

“It’s a tough choice, but this is where we’re at, and I think it’s the right one for what the data is telling us today,” Dart said.

The district’s learning plan differs from the remote instruction that occurred in the spring in that students will be graded for their work and attendance will be counted.

TPS also has launched a virtual academy for students who prefer a more self-paced learning mode than the standard distance learning model. The deadline to sign up for the Tulsa Virtual Academy is Aug. 10.


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