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Update: Younger students in Tulsa Public Schools will go back to classrooms in November

Update: Younger students in Tulsa Public Schools will go back to classrooms in November

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Update: The Tulsa Public Schools Board of Education decided to send elementary students back to the classroom in November during a lengthy meeting that began Tuesday evening and ended early Wednesday.

Board members originally were slated to vote on Superintendent Deborah Gist’s recommendation calling for students to return to the classroom gradually through a hybrid learning model for the second nine weeks of the 2020-21 school year. But after several hours of discussion, most — if not all — rejected the idea of replacing distance learning with a hybrid model.

Eventually, board member Suzanne Schreiber created a pair of motions for prekindergarten and kindergarten students to revert to in-person instruction four days per week beginning Nov. 9. Wednesdays would be spent in distance learning, and hybrid learning was removed from the equation.

Students in first through third grades would return four days per week starting Nov. 16, while those in fourth and fifth grades would come back Nov. 30, along with sixth-graders who attend elementary school. Families that wish to remain in distance learning would be able to do so.

The board approved both of Schreiber's motions.

Board members could not make a decision on when middle school and high school students should return to in-person instruction, however, and the discussion was tabled until a special meeting on Monday.

Jerry Griffin, one of the board’s newest members, called for a motion that would allow middle-schoolers and high-schoolers to return Nov. 30, but the motion was rejected.

Meanwhile, Gist said the district will direct its efforts to improving distance learning for the secondary grades because of the board’s refusal to make a decision with only a few weeks left to prepare for the second quarter of the school year.

During the meeting, the school board heard from local health officials who spoke about local COVID-19 data and trends. They also heard from parents and educators who spoke against bringing back in-person instruction during the COVID-19 pandemic. Several parents at last week's meeting had urged the board to bring back in-person instruction.

Proponents of in-person instruction say distance learning has been devastating for many working families and lacks the essential social component students need in their education. Meanwhile, others argue that it's too dangerous to return to school prematurely, especially for district staff members and family members who are immunocompromised.

Gist said she and the board have listened intently to the concerns of community members and understand that there is no easy answer.

"I know that Tulsans also recognize — because I hear it in the feedback — that this is a public health crisis that is about COVID, and it's about the mental health, the social and emotional well-being of everyone, our children, our families and our team members. So we've made a commitment to Tulsa that we would be grounded to data and science, and we are."​

The story that appears in Wednesday's Tulsa World is below.


Tulsa school board members continued to discuss the district’s proposal to implement a hybrid learning model late into the night Tuesday and had not reached a decision by press time.

The Tulsa Public Schools Board of Education was expected to vote on a recommendation presented last week that calls for students to return to the classroom in phases during the second nine weeks of the 2020-21 school year.

The school board heard Tuesday evening from local health officials who spoke about local COVID-19 data and trends. They also heard from parents and educators who spoke against bringing back in-person instruction during the COVID-19 pandemic. Several parents at last week’s meeting had urged the board to bring back in-person instruction.

Proponents of in-person instruction say distance learning has been devastating for many working families and lacks the essential social component students need in their education. Meanwhile, others argue that it’s too dangerous to return to school prematurely, especially for district staff members and family members who are immunocompromised.

Superintendent Deborah Gist said she and the board have listened intently to the concerns of community members and understand that there is no easy answer.

“I know that Tulsans also recognize — because I hear it in the feedback — that this is a public health crisis that is about COVID, and it’s about the mental health, the social and emotional well-being of everyone, our children, our families and our team members. So we’ve made a commitment to Tulsa that we would be grounded to data and science, and we are.”

Gist’s recommendation involves prekindergartners and kindergarteners returning to school in a hybrid model on Nov. 9. Students in first, second and third grades would start the hybrid model on Nov. 16, while those in fourth through 12th grades would begin the hybrid model on Nov. 30.

The hybrid model involves splitting students into two cohorts. Students in Group A would attend school in person on Mondays and Tuesdays, while those in Group B would attend in person on Thursdays and Fridays. All students would continue to engage in distance learning on Wednesdays.

Some students with special needs would continue to engage in small-group in-person meetings each weekday.

Check tulsaworld.com for an updated version of this story.


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