The Tulsa Public Schools Board of Education on Monday approved Superintendent Deborah Gist’s recommendation for a “tiered shift” back to in-person learning beginning in late January, a plan Gist told parents would be “dependent on current COVID-19 health data and levels of community spread” at that time.
“I know that distance learning has been a challenge for our students and families and that we all want our students back in school in-person as soon as possible,” Gist wrote in a letter to parents posted on the Tulsa Public Schools website.
The district initially planned for all students to return to the classroom by early January but approved Gist’s recommendation in a special meeting Monday afternoon. Parents will be able to choose by Jan. 12 whether their children will return to the classroom in person or continue distance learning.
Gist wrote in her statement that the district monitors three categories of information each week and uses that data when determining what modes of learning are appropriate during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The first two — called early warning indicators and foundational school system metrics — are specific to Tulsa Public Schools, while the third category, foundational health care metrics, includes information such as the seven-day rolling new-case average in the county and district.
“We know that the safety practices we have in place in our schools can help to prevent community spread of COVID-19, so these district-specific measures are integral to informing our decisions about distance or in-person learning,” Gist wrote. Even as we evaluate the third measure … we prioritize what is happening in our classrooms (and in other school systems) when we are making decisions about the student learning experience.”
Under the new plan, students in all grades will continue distance learning through the end of the first semester on Friday, Jan. 15. Those in prekindergarten through third grade will go back to in-person classes on Monday, Jan. 25, as will students with special needs receiving Tier 3- or Tier 4-level services.
Students in grades 4-12 will return to in-person classes on Monday, Feb. 1, following orientations by school teams for those students throughout January to help them prepare for the change. Distance learning will remain in place for all grades on Wednesdays.
“At the same time, even as we work to keep students, teachers, and support professionals safe in our schools, it is not enough to offset the level of spread happening in our community,” Gist wrote. “We have to carry those consistent safety protocols — wearing our masks, washing our hands often, and watching our distance — into our personal lives too.”
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