UPDATE: Gov. Stitt’s controversial new quarantine policy for Oklahoma schools
Mike Seals - January 13, 2021 10:39 am
OKCPS superintendent criticizes Stitt’s data
UPDATE: Oklahoma City Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Sean McDaniel issued a statement Tuesday night criticizing the data Gov. Kevin Stitt used while announcing his controversial new quarantine policy for Oklahoma schools.
Stitt’s new policy states that those who are exposed to COVID-19 while at school will not have to isolate at home as long as everyone in the classroom was wearing a mask and practicing social distancing.
Stitt, during the news conference, referenced academic performances in Oklahoma City schools during the pandemic. The school district has had to frequently transition to remote learning to prevent the spread of COVID-19 within schools.
OKCPS administrators set up a blended learning schedule, which has both in-person classes and remote leaning, but has had difficulty keeping in-person classes going because of confirmed COVID-19 cases among students and staff.
McDaniel said in the statement that the data that Stitt referenced was “out of date, wildly inaccurate and very misleading.”
McDaniel’s full statement is as follows:
“I am very grateful for the Governor’s interest in Oklahoma City Public Schools (OKCPS) and how we are addressing the pandemic. We are all especially pleased that he has moved our teachers and other school and district personnel into Phase 2 of the state’s vaccination plan.
This afternoon, Governor Stitt announced a change to the guidelines related to the quarantine of school staff and students who have been exposed to COVID-19. The guidance does not appear to follow CDC guidelines and deviates dramatically from best practice as it relates to mitigation efforts in school buildings. While I can appreciate the Governor’s passion and desire to provide an in-person opportunity to all of our students, I strongly believe that these decisions must be made at the district level with ample input from the public health experts that we have come to rely on. Until we hear more from our public health partners, OKCPS will continue with our current contract tracing and isolation processes that align with their existing guidance. OKCPS’ goal from the onset of the pandemic has been to return to in-person learning when it was safe and responsible to do so, and we are moving in that direction.
In his remarks, the Governor attempted to characterize the current academic performance at OKCPS high schools. Unfortunately, the data he used was out of date, wildly inaccurate and very misleading. Like many districts, we have gotten better at remote learning while moving through the pandemic, and we continue to make great strides. Thanks to the hard work of our teachers, staff and certainly our students, OKCPS has seen marked improvement since our first few weeks of school, which is what the data he used today represented. It is unfortunate that in order to make his point – one that I substantively agree with – the Governor chose to misrepresent OKCPS and cast our kids and our teachers in a negative light.
OKCPS has developed a well-thought-out and strong Return to Campus plan that has been created with the safety of our students and staff at the forefront. We have leaned heavily on the Oklahoma City-County Health Department and their team of experts, along with the public health experts and professionals at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), when developing it and we will continue to do so.
Additionally, as part of our Six-Point Safety Plan, OKCPS has introduced several significant layers of safety to our district since the end of the first semester. In partnership with the OCCHD, we now have an on-site COVID-19 testing program for all employees and their families, as well as dedicated contact tracers at all 62 of our schools. Our districtwide air ionization project will be completed by February 1. For these reasons, we believe OKCPS can safely and responsibly bring back approximately 18,000 students in grades PK through 4th in an A/B setting on January 19th. And, as promised, we will continue to evaluate our unique circumstances when considering a return for secondary students in the coming weeks.
To aid in our effort, we ask our community to continue to wear their masks, wash their hands often, and practice social distancing. When we all work together and are vigilant with our safety practices, the transmission rate of COVID-19 will decline, allowing our students to safely return to our campuses.
I do not envy the Governor’s job during these unprecedented times and am appreciative of the work he and his team are doing as we move towards our common goal of in-person teaching and learning.”
– DR. SEAN MCDANIEL, SUPERINTENDENT OF OKLAHOMA CITY PUBLIC SCHOOLS
The new controversial guidelines surrounding school quarantine announced by the state Tuesday are already being questioned by Oklahoma education leaders.
Gov. Kevin Stitt and Oklahoma State Department of Health leaders announced that from now on, quarantining after an in-school exposure to COVID-19 might not be necessary.
“Schools that enforce the use of masks will not have to quarantine potential exposures unless they’re showing symptoms,” Stitt said.
It’s an effort to keep kids safely in school. The governor said they feel confident it will be safe based on studies conducted in other states.
According to the new policy, those who test positive or have symptoms will still have to quarantine.
However, now those exposed will not have to isolate at home as long as everyone in the classroom was wearing a mask and practicing social distancing.
Stitt said he believes this rule change will be more effective than imposing a statewide mask mandate.
“I believe that more school districts, even if they don’t have a mask mandate, will do it now since the quarantine rules have changed,” the governor said.
Stitt condemned school districts that he said “refuse” to let students return to in-person learning and “deny” teachers the opportunity to return to the classroom.
But not every district is on board with the new policy.
After the governor’s news conference Tuesday, Mustang Public School Superintendent Charles Bradley sent the following note to families:
“Some of you may have heard that the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) announced today a new policy change that could affect quarantining in school. We look forward to seeing this new OSDH policy in writing, but we will continue to follow science-based protocols vetted by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and health professionals. The health and safety of our school community is, and always has been, our number one priority. We have developed numerous COVID-related safety procedures as indicated in our Health/Safety Plan , and we believe in the efficacy of that plan. At this time, we do not anticipate any changes to our Plan including quarantine practices. We are following the revised CDC Quarantine Guidance that was announced late last semester. We developed and have monitored our protocols in conjunction with our local and state health partners, and we will continue to follow public health guidance and safety protocols while monitoring the metric of staff absenteeism rates to ensure that schools can operate effectively and safely.”
– MUSTANG PUBLIC SCHOOL SUPERINTENDENT CHARLES BRADLEY
Oklahoma State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister was not invited to be a part of Tuesday’s press conference, nor was she consulted on the new guidelines before they were released, according to her spokesperson.
Hofmeister, who has been a staunch advocate of a mask mandate in schools, issued the following statement:
“The ramifications of the pandemic on education have been challenging and severe. While this option underscores the need for mask requirements in school, I cannot in good conscience support ignoring quarantine guidelines from the CDC and other infectious disease experts. There is no doubt we all want our students and teachers to be safely in the classroom, but COVID is raging in Oklahoma. In-person instruction is critical, and so is mitigating the spread of the virus. They are not mutually exclusive.”
– OKLAHOMA STATE SUPERINTENDENT JOY HOFMEISTER
The Oklahoma Education Association President Alicia Priest released the following statement in response to Stitt’s new school quarantine policy:
“The governor and his team have many of the same values as the educators who make up the OEA. We want what’s best for kids. We believe everyone should have a great public school no matter where they live. In-person learning is best for teachers and students. We can’t wait for COVID-19 to be completely gone before school goes back to normal.
But the governor’s remarks are confusing.
The governor says schools are safe, but what is he doing to ensure that? He calls for no quarantining when there is a mask policy but won’t demand strong mask policies. He cherry picks data instead of holistically tackling the pandemic. Even sources cited by the governor say that school buildings are no longer safe when community spread reaches dangerous levels.
He preaches local control unless he disagrees with local choices. Local school boards, who listen to parents in their communities, are the decision makers for our Oklahoma schools.
The governor says schools aren’t open, but where are all these schools that aren’t open? Many educators and support professionals have been battling the pandemic while teaching, feeding students, and keeping everyone safe. Burnout is real, and many have been sick. Some have died. Don’t accuse teachers of not trying when they are in the fire right now.
Time is running out for our kids this school year. The governor needs to stop using his time dividing teachers and parents. His No. 1 priority should be mitigating the spread of the virus — not scapegoating local school boards, pitting parents against teachers, or avoiding responsibility.”
– OKLAHOMA EDUCATION ASSOCIATION PRESIDENT ALICIA PRIEST
The President of the Oklahoma City American Federation of Teachers (AFL-CIO), Torie Shoecraft, issued the following statement, sharply criticizing Stitt’s new policy:
“Today AFT watched Governor Stitt’s press conference in shock as he outlined his plan for students to return to school. It is evident that he has a mission that disregards science and the safety of our teachers and students. We noticed the absence of the State Department of Education and Superintendent Hofmeister at the press conference. Decisions of this magnitude should include all parties.
Eliminating a district’s quarantine policy can prove to be detrimental to our schools and Oklahoma communities. The CDC still recommends quarantining after exposure, unlike the Governor’s proposed changes.
We are eager to return to in-person learning, but it is imperative we put the safety of our community members first.
We call on the Governor to immediately offer vaccinations to teachers. The focus should be on vaccinating teachers rather than pressuring districts to open in unsafe environments.
Teacher and student safety will always be a major priority of AFT – American Federation of Teachers.”
– AFL-CIO PRESIDENT TORIE SHOECRAFT
Deer Creek School District officials issued the following statement regarding quarantine time for students and staff:
“Today, Governor Stitt and State Health Commissioner Dr. Lance Fry announced that schools who have a mask mandate in place will not need to quarantine staff or students who were potentially exposed to the COVID-19 virus unless that student or staff member is experiencing symptoms.
Since Deer Creek was notified of this decision as it was being released today, we will wait on written guidance as advised by the Oklahoma State School Boards Association and Oklahoma County Department of Health prior to changing our current protocols. If changes are made to our current protocols, staff and parents will be notified. Until then, all current protocols and practices remain in effect.
‘We urge districts to wait for final written guidance from the Oklahoma State Department of Health and consult with local health officials, teachers, staff and families before considering quarantine-related changes.’ ~ Oklahoma State School Boards Association
‘At this time, we ask you to proceed as we have been and follow the guidelines currently in place. Whenever we receive the official guidance from the Oklahoma State Department of Health, we will share that information with you’ ~ Oklahoma County Health Department”
– DEER CREEK SCHOOL DISTRICT
On Tuesday, OSDH officials also announced that starting this week, teachers age 65 years and older can begin to get the vaccine. They could not say when younger teachers will be eligible to be vaccinated as well.