Oklahoma’s public school students will shift into a variety of distance learning models for the remainder of 2019-20 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the state Board of Education decided Wednesday.
The mandatory closure of schools that began March 17 will continue through April 5 for students, but now, “continuous learning plans” adopted by each local school district will begin for students April 6 and run through at least May 8-15.
Local school officials will determine their district's own end date for distance learning for 2019-20, and they will have the flexibility to set that end date beyond mid-May if they choose.
The board's action has most likely doomed any chance to finish the State basketball tournament for Classes 2A-6A and all spring sports. The Coweta High School girls basketball team was supposed to play in the 5A bracket, but it looks like that may not happen under the current circumstances.
However, the athletic governing body, the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association will meet on Thursday to discuss the matter. There appears only a slim chance that it will be allowed to be played.
State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister acknowledged that a number of people across the state had asked “Can’t we wait a few weeks to decide?” but she said “The answer is `no.’ .... It isn’t possible for districts to flip a switch and shift into this type of delivery of education without advanced notice.”
Hofmeister and state board members made it clear that “distance learning” will not consist of web-based or online instruction requiring technology in some districts. Offerings are expected to vary according to student needs and home internet access, and according to each district’s capacity, including those with “significant technology limitations.”
Board member Carlisha Williams Bradley, of Tulsa, said the need to move to distance learning will represent a “unique burden on several of our districts.”
“When we do return to normalcy, there's additional barriers districts that will not have had that close touch with students will face,” Williams Bradley said. “Although this is a very difficult decision to make, health is the top priority. This calls on our communities to support districts. We do have to think about the students who don't have access and the parents who may still be working who need additional supports from the community at this time.”
Board member Jennifer Monies, of Oklahoma City, said every board member had heard from concerned students, parents and educators before Wednesday's special meeting.
“I know I speak for the full board, we’ve been in close contact. ... We’re all here with the purpose of making sure every student gets a quality education. This pandemic presents very trying times to make sure that happens,” Monies said. “Why do we have to do this now? My answer has been we have to give districts the maximum amount of time to think through and innovate.”
In an effort to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, the state’s public school buildings must remain closed to all except workers providing child nutrition services and only the administrative services required to provide distance learning and employee payroll, Hofmeister said.
She called Oklahoma’s public school educators “strong and dedicated and smart,” and said she has confidence they will find “creative and innovative ways to continue learning for their students and they will rise to the challenge. It will look different for all schools and we have to accept that.”
Graduation was another topic addressed. The board discussed “creative” ways schools could approach the annual event.
Hofmeister said she had heard from two schools with ideas. One was an online slide show highlighting each senior and their accomplishments.
Another plan had seniors driving down Main Street with well-wishers on both sides of the street to honor the graduates.
That plan might work for smaller school districts, but a school like Broken Arrow, which has traditionally around 1,000 graduates, may not be feasible.
John Ferguson of the Wagoner County American-Tribune contributed to this report.