Education

Hominy pushes back school start date; Ponca City schools require face masks

In light of COVID-19, area school districts are continuing to adjust their back to school plans.

On July 29, Hominy Public Schools announced via social media that the start of school will be delayed by one week to Aug. 27.

The delay provides extra time for the district to finish up renovations on the high school and time for staff to move back into the building.

When in-person instruction resumes, face coverings will be required for all staff and students until further notice. However, each campus will have areas set aside where they can be taken off as long as social distancing is observed. The district will have cloth masks and neck gaiters available.

On that same day, officials with Bartlesville Public Schools announced that masks will be required for all students in fourth grade and up when classes start on Aug. 13. Face shields and other accommodations are being made for students who have sensory issues or other specific conditions that prevent them from wearing a mask or neck gaiter.

In a video update, Bartlesville Superintendent Chuck McCauley said his district will be largely relying on the color-coded alert system released by the state Department of Education as a recommendation. At the time of the announcement, the county is in the yellow band, which means in-person instruction is expected. However, about one-fifth of the Washington County school district’s students are enrolled in its virtual program.

“I’m sure you’ve seen recently that a couple of large school districts, Oklahoma City and Tulsa, have either approved or will soon be approving distance learning for the first quarter,” he said in the video. “They’re in a different color code than we are.  

“We’ll continue to monitor that as changes are made weekly.”

Also on July 29, the board of education for Ponca City Public Schools voted for its district to also follow the state Department of Education’s color coded alert system.

At the time of the announcement, Kay County was also in the yellow band, which according to the district’s news safety protocols, means face coverings are required for staff and students. According to the district’s “Return to Learn” plan, Ponca City Public Schools is providing a neck gaiter to every student and a reusable mask to every district employee.

In video announcing the district’s decision, Superintendent Shelley Arrott acknowledged that the choice was not an easy one, but done in an effort to prevent intermittent closures later on due to quarantines.

“It was not an easy decision, but with cases on the rise, we want to mitigate the spread … for the safety of our students and staff and our community,” she said.

Ponca City Public Schools is scheduled to start the academic year on Aug. 19.

Meanwhile, the board of education for Tulsa Public Schools will take up a recommendation on Aug. 3 from Superintendent Deborah Gist to start the year with all distance learning for at least the first nine weeks.

As presented, the plan does include exceptions for a limited number of special education students to receive in-person instruction while the rest of the district relies on distance learning.

According to data published by the Oklahoma State Department of Health, Tulsa County has 1,305 active cases of COVID-19 as of July 31 and would just barely be considered orange Level 1 under the state Department of Education’s alert system.

Orange Level 1, which is for districts with 14.4-24.99 cases for every resident, calls for a staggered schedule, while Orange Level 2 calls for distance learning for at least 75 percent of a district’s students. The minimum threshold for Orange Level 2 is 25 cases for every 100,000 residents.

As of July 31, Tulsa County has 24.85 cases for every 100,000 residents.

Tulsa Public Schools is scheduled to start its academic year on Aug. 31.

 

[Editor's Note: This article was updated on Aug. 2]