Major changes are coming this fall for Tulsa Public Schools, which will start the 2020-21 school year almost two weeks later than usual and implement district-wide distance learning on Wednesdays.
The Tulsa Public Schools Board of Education approved an unprecedented calendar on Monday evening that changes the start date for the coming school year to Aug. 31 and the end date to June 8. The school year will consist of 152 instructional days lasting 436 minutes instead of the traditional 166 days lasting 400 minutes.
The calendar ensures that all students are engaged in distance learning every Wednesday for at least the first quarter of the fall semester — regardless of active COVID-19 rates and whether school will be in session other days of the week.
Superintendent Deborah Gist said she recognizes the problems this may cause with child care for parents. Therefore, the district will spend the next six weeks collaborating with community partners to help support families with resources for the weekly in-home distance-learning days.
“We know that this is a big change, and it is an important one,” Gist said. “It provides time for custodians to clean and sanitize classrooms mid-week and for teachers to engage in planning, team collaboration and professional learning. These distance learning days will also give schools the flexibility they need to provide academic support for those students who need it most.”
The new calendar is designed to be flexible and allow the Tulsa school district to transition between full-time distance learning and face-to-face instruction as needed. District administrators will rely on recommendations from local health officials to decide among three potential scheduling options: in-person learning, 100% distance learning and a combination of the two.
If health officials deem it safe to fully reopen schools in August, then in-person instruction will resume for all students on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, Deputy Superintendent Paula Shannon said.
TPS will implement a hybrid scheduling option if social distancing still is required due to high COVID-19 rates. That would mean half of students would attend school Mondays and Tuesdays, while the other half would attend on Thursdays and Fridays. The other days would be spent in distance learning.
If the pandemic is so severe in August that shelter-in-place regulations are revived and even small gatherings are forbidden, then the entire week will be spent in distance learning until further notice, Shannon said.
The 2020-21 calendar will allow for possible shifts between in-person and distance learning based on rates of COVID-19 infection in the community throughout the year.
TPS also will offer a virtual school option for students and families who are at high risk for infection or who would prefer to keep their children home.
Students in the virtual academy still will be enrolled at their current schools but will complete their studies online. Those who choose this option will have the opportunity to return to in-person learning.
Meanwhile, TPS is preparing to provide the necessary protective equipment for keeping students and employees safe, which may include masks to be worn while at school.
Gist said administrators are developing plans to reconfigure spaces and classrooms to maintain social distancing practices in addition to social distancing protocols on buses and during arrival/dismissal times. There also will be additional cleaning procedures that may include hand-washing stations throughout buildings.