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Tulsa World editorial: Stitt's comments about TPS are inaccurate and hurtful to staff

Tulsa World editorial: Stitt's comments about TPS are inaccurate and hurtful to staff

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Virus Outbreak Oklahoma

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt speaks during a news conference in Oklahoma City, Monday, Nov. 16, 2020. Stitt is imposing new restrictions on bars and restaurants and requiring masks in state buildings as officials attempt to control the surging number of coronavirus infections.

Gov. Kevin Stitt singled out Tulsa Public Schools this week in a misinformed and unhelpful statement regarding the worsening pandemic.

Stitt says he wants all students back in schools at the end of the holidays, but hasn’t taken meaningful mitigation measures to get this done.

The same holds true for the majority the Oklahoma State School Board, of which the governor appoints all but one member, and Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association board, which is privately organized and independent of the governor. Both boards refused to set state standards for opening schools or holding sports events.

State leaders have taken a hands-off approach to COVID-19 reduction efforts, encouraging personal responsibility and supporting local efforts in words but not deeds. The only state restrictions were set this week and apply to state employees, bars and restaurants.

For months, the tough decision making about issues such as mask mandates and student gatherings have been pushed to the local levels for superintendents, school boards mayors and city councils.

That’s why Stitt’s comment in Monday’s press conference was irritating.

“(T)here’s some schools, Tulsa Public Schools for example, has not been back in school this entire year since last March. It breaks my heart what’s happening to those kids in the Tulsa Public Schools area.”

This is untrue and hurtful to the TPS teachers and staff working hard under unprecedented pressure.

TPS brought back pre-K and kindergarten students earlier this month. After bringing first, second and third graders back to class, the district opted to delay the same move for older elementary school students. Some students in special education programs have been meeting in buildings since August.

Middle and high school students are scheduled to return Jan. 4.

Stitt also said “93% of districts” are meeting in-person. He did not acknowledge the many districts forced to switch into distance learning due to outbreaks, or the challenges teachers face with in-person learning due to rolling quarantines of students.

We agree that children learned best with in-person learning. We also recognize the challenges of staffing and substitute shortages in a worsening pandemic complicates decisions.

Local school board members and administrators have labored hard on how to hold classes safely and with precious little help from the governor’s office. They have relied on local health officials and data to lead the way.

Stitt can’t have it both ways. He can’t avoid hard choices and say he wants to empower local leaders and then undercut their informed decisions. Or, at least, he shouldn’t. There are harsh words for such behavior, which we won’t use here out of politeness.

We believe TPS administrators and board members made the right decision with the information they had. We applaud local officials for stepping into the leadership void left by our state elected officials.

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