On Thursday, the State Board of Education refused to give public schools stricter guidelines on how to reopen classrooms this fall, including what would have amounted to a mask mandate for most districts.
State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister had proposed a multitiered set of rules with tighter restrictions depending on how prevalent the COVID-19 virus is within the district’s county.
At the lowest end of the spectrum, face coverings would have been strongly recommended for all faculty and students, but those rules would have applied only to a handful of rural districts, in all likelihood.
At midpoint levels of infection, masks would have been mandated for all students, teachers and staff, but in-person classes would have been the norm.
At the highest levels, the rules would have required a move to online instruction.
But on a 4-3 vote, the board changed Hofmeister’s mandate proposal into “strong recommendations,” mere words with no real enforcement mechanism. Those in the majority were Bill Flanagan of Claremore; Estella Hernandez of Oklahoma City; Jennifer Monies of Oklahoma City, and Brian Bobek of Oklahoma City.
Some members said they wanted to leave the final decision in local hands and that the rules came too close to school opening dates.
We wish the rules had come sooner, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t needed now. We, too, favor local control, but in the current political environment that’s not good enough. Frankly, it’s a plan for mass infection in some schools.
Most administrators and boards would do the right thing in an ideal world, but they are under enormous pressure from loud fringe forces insisting on open schools, no masks and “business as usual.”
Unusual times call for unusual choices.
The Hofmeister proposal would have given local boards and superintendents political cover to protect schools and the community at large. If properly followed, it would have slowed the spread of a potentially deadly disease.
The mandate proposal was a brave act of leadership by Hofmeister, and the board should have followed it. But, instead, it balked, and now Oklahoma schools have no coronavirus rules … and no guarantees that children will be able to learn in the healthiest environment possible.