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Tulsa World editorial: Tulsa Public Schools making right decision to return

Tulsa World editorial: Tulsa Public Schools making right decision to return

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Michael Hendricks teaches his fifth-grade English Language Arts class virtually from his classroom at Wayman Tisdale Fine Arts Academy on Aug. 31.

Tulsa Public Schools made a tentative but appropriate move Wednesday morning, allowing students to return to classrooms beginning next month.

When the school year began, the district was rightly cautious, opting for distance learning in the first quarter. By being prudent, TPS was able to learn from the experience of surrounding and national districts.

It’s a process of science and data that must balance mounting public pressure for the option of full in-person classes with the health concerns of parents, teachers and staff.

After a healthy, public debate, the Tulsa board voted to open elementary schools in November four days a week. Face masks will be required. How to deal with middle and high school students will be considered Monday.

A hybrid model that would have brought back half of the student body on certain days was rejected. The science on the hybrid approach has been inconclusive.

Science is more certain around the ages most likely to spread COVID-19. Children 10 and younger do not appear to have the same viral load as older students, minimizing transmission.

Older students carry the same potency as adults. Reports from other districts show most infections are spread among the upper grades.

An optimistic bit of data indicates the infection rate among teachers and staff is lower than expected, a triumph of specific safety requirements implemented in schools.

No families will be required to return children to in-person classes. Parents still have an option of distance or virtual learning.

That’s appropriate, but it doesn’t make the situation any easier for teachers and staff, who face the challenge of maintaining separate tracks of online and in-person students and legitimate concerns about their own health. Districts faced a teacher and substitute teacher shortage before the pandemic; that isn’t improved by the current situation.

We continue in our scorn and derision for the lack of leadership from the State School Board and Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association. They created a patchwork of learning models and suggestions where mandates were needed.

In general, the state has managed the pandemic poorly, pushing ahead when it should have pulled back and refusing to require simple public health safeguards.

TPS still faces a tough decision regarding older students. The potential for a second wave of the pandemic may also mean this week’s choice will have to be reversed if it cannot be sustained.

The district’s goal is certainly complicated in the face of the pandemic, but it must remain the same: providing a safe, accessible and equitable learning environment for all students. For now, that means a tentative return to the classroom.

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