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.
Gallery: A timeline of COVID-19 spread around the world
Dec. 30, 2019: Chinese doctor sounds the alarm
Dec. 31, 2019: Chinese health authorities notice mysterious cases of pneumonia
Jan. 4, 2020: WHO starts tracking illnesses in Wuhan
Jan. 11: The first coronavirus death is reported
Jan. 13: The virus spreads to other countries
Jan. 23: Wuhan is locked down
Jan. 30: WHO declares a Public Health Emergency
Feb. 2: First death outside of China
Feb. 5: Cruise ship quarantined off the coast of Japan
Feb. 11: The disease gets a new name
Feb. 14: First death in Europe
Feb. 19: COVID-19 arrives in Iran
Feb. 23: Cases of COVID-19 explode in Italy
Feb. 26: First case reported in Latin America, more cases in Europe
Feb. 28: Cases spike in Europe, first U.S. death
March 7: Death toll continues to rise
March 11: WHO declares COVID-19 to be global pandemic
March 11: Trump announces a European travel ban—sort of
March 13: Trump declares a national emergency
March 15: Europe shuts down
March 19: China reports no new local infections
March 20: Deaths exceed 10,000 globally
March 23: United Kingdom locks down
March 24: India, a country of 1.3 billion people, shuts down
March 24: Tokyo Summer Olympics postponed
March 25: U.S. government announces $2 trillion aid plan
March 26: Record unemployment filings in U.S.
March 26: Global COVID-19 cases surpass 500,000
March 27: U.S. surpasses Italy for most cases worldwide
March 27: Nearly half of all Americans under lockdown
April 2: Over 1 million confirmed cases worldwide
April 5: First U.S. animal tests positive for the virus
April 13: Global COVID-19 case count surpasses 2 million
April 14: Trump halts funding to WHO
April 15: Stimulus bill begins to help Americans
April 20: Trump announces ban on U.S. immigration
April 20: Protests to reopen the country erupt across America
April 21: Georgia draws scrutiny with plan to reopen the state early
May 4: J. Crew files for bankruptcy
July 9: Cases continue spiking and reaching new record highs
July 23: US passes 4 million cases nationwide
August 17: U.N.C. Chapel Hill goes online one week after reopening
August 26: Abbott antigen test approved
September 19: U.S. death toll passes 200,000
October 2: COVID-19 reaches the White House
October 12-13: Medical trials paused
Nov. 4: US passes 100,000 new cases in one day
Nov. 9: Pfizer releases preliminary vaccine trial data
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