CV Distance Learning

Elmer Thomas (left), Vertula Rentie (center) and Dana Macon distribute educational supplies at Monroe Demonstration Academy on April 1. The school gave out supplies to students during the coronavirus outbreak. MATT BARNARD/Tulsa World

Tulsa-area school leaders are making the tough and occasionally contentious decisions on how students will start the academic year.

Last week, superintendents in Tulsa, Bixby and Broken Arrow proposed plans about what the first of school will look like.

These were examples of decisive leadership in contrast to the failure of statewide groups — the state Board of Education and the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association — that failed to set standards.

Sadly, the lack of statewide direction — and the resulting patchwork of different district models — will create confusion under the best scenario and may lead to threats to public health and education outcomes.

To their credit, TPS Superintendent Deborah Gist, Bixby Superintendent Rob Miller and Broken Arrow Superintendent Janet Dunlop showed courage in facing the tremendous pressure to decide how to open their schools safely and with the same quality of education.

Gist has recommended the Tulsa school board move classes into a distance learning setting for at least the first nine weeks of the year. That mirrors a suggestion made by the Tulsa Classroom Teachers Association and comes after daily local record-breaking COVID-19 cases in Tulsa County.

Timing is everything here. Gist made the recommendation a week before the board vote and a month prior to school starting. This gives parents, faculty and staff time to contact board members and for the community to the ultimate decision.

The TPS team will need to convince patrons that distance learning will be work better than it did last spring. That was a crisis management situation but it’s time to make the system work well.

Miller put forth a three-week plan leaning heavily on virtual learning, noting the district’s ZIP codes show a 65% increase in COVID-19 cases in the past month. The Bixby board unanimously approved the proposal.

Broken Arrow’s board approved Dunlop’s recommendation for mandated masks for third grade and higher and a tiered safety plan that includes distance learning in outbreaks.

Three superintendents, three different solutions to the same vexing problem. There’s at least one lesson from that: No design is perfect.

There are benefits and drawbacks to each, as Miller put it: “There is no best plan. In fact, I’m not sure there’s even a good plan to deal with reopening schools in a COVID epidemic.”

Given the potential for a no-win situation, the best alternative has to be one that gives everyone a chance to be heard and then make reasonable preparations for a chosen path that results from a community discussion.

That’s what Gist did. TPS board members will take up the her proposal Monday, and we urge them to move forward with it.

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