Board of Education votes for distance learning to close out school year

OKLAHOMA CITY — Starting April 6, all public schools in Oklahoma will finish out the 2019-2020 school year via distance learning.

In an effort to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus, the state Board of Education voted 7-0 on March 25 to end in-person instruction for all public schools for the rest of the school year. Instead, every school district is required to submit a distance learning plan for approval to the state Department of Education, with instruction to start by April 6.

In order to address student needs and community resources, state officials acknowledged those instructional plans will look wildly different among the more than 500 districts across Oklahoma.

Acknowledging that many school districts are in areas without reliable universal internet access or cellular signal, state school board members reiterated several times during the meeting that that “distance learning” does not automatically mean online classes across the board. Instead, they asked districts to be creative and for communities to pitch in wherever safely possible.

Surveys were sent out to district leaders to ascertain community internet access and talks are underway with the Oklahoma Educational Television Authority to air supplemental material during daytime broadcast hours.

“Although this is a very difficult decision to make, health is the top priority,” board member Carlisha Williams Bradley said. “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.”

With additional waivers approved regarding academic calendars and daily instructional time, each local school district will determine its end date. In a typical school year, students are required to be in school for at least six hours per day and academic calendars must be at least either 1,080 instructional hours or 180 days long.

However, simply “opting out” for instruction in April and May is not an option.

“We are not going to allow districts to say, ‘This is too much. We’re done,’” state Superintendent Joy Hofmeister said.

As worded, the order explicitly calls for school buildings to be closed other than for essential services, including maintenance, security, student enrollment, staff to provide or facilitate distance learning for students and child nutrition. More than 60 percent of Oklahoma’s public school students qualify for free or reduced-price meals, prompting districts across the state to offer grab and go meals starting March 23.

The order also explicitly suspends all school-sponsored extracurricular activities for the rest of the academic year.  

The state school board’s order does not apply to Daposka Ahnkodapi. However, on March 19, officials with the immersion school posted to social media that both the school and its language nests are closed until further notice.