Ponca City Public Schools moves to distance learning due to rising COVID-19 cases

Photo caption: Ponca City Public Schools joins school districts across the state that are transitioning to distance learning due to rising COVID-19 cases in their communities. Courtesy Photo/Ponca City Public Schools website

Another area school district is pivoting to distance learning due to rising COVID-19 cases.

Starting Nov. 23, Ponca City Public Schools will move all of its students to distance learning for the remainder of the fall 2020 semester.

As per the Oklahoma State Department of Health, Kay County’s per capita case count for the week of Nov. 20 is 85.6 for every 100,000 residents, which for the second straight week, puts it in the red alert zone under the Oklahoma Department of Education’s guidelines.

School districts in counties with 50 or more active cases per capita are urged to go to distance learning until the per capita case count drops to 25 or less. As of Nov. 19, only one Oklahoma county has less than 25 active cases per capita: Harmon County in far southwestern Oklahoma.  

Meanwhile, Tulsa Public Schools’ board of education voted on Nov. 19 to adjust its post-Thanksgiving in-person instruction plans.

Originally, older elementary school students were scheduled to come back on Nov. 30. Those students will now remain in distance learning until Jan. 4, 2021, along with all secondary students.

Students in third grade and under are still scheduled to resume in-person instruction after Thanksgiving, although Superintendent Deborah Gist does have authority from the school board to stop or change that as conditions warrant.

The move came less than 24 hours after the district had to move one of its largest elementary schools, Kendall-Whittier Elementary, entirely to distance learning due to an insufficient number of available substitute teachers to cover multiple teachers in quarantine from outside exposures.

As of Nov. 19, the district has about 140 people in its substitute teacher pool and more than 600 classrooms open across its 44 elementary schools.

Like Kay County, Tulsa County is in the red zone, with 60.5 active cases per capita as of Nov. 19.