Education , Health

Tulsa Public Schools switches back to distance learning for pre-K through third grade

TULSA — Less than three weeks after bringing back its youngest students, the state’s second largest public school district is going back to distance learning due to COVID-19.

Citing guidance from the Tulsa County Health Department, Tulsa Public Schools Superintendent Deborah Gist announced in a Nov. 30 email to parents that all of the district’s students would pivot to distance learning starting on Dec. 2.

“Throughout the pandemic, we have continued to closely monitor COVID-19 data in our district, city, and county,” Gist wrote. “We are in near-daily contact with the Tulsa Health Department, as well as a group of medical professionals, including pediatricians. Based on our conversations with Tulsa Health Department Executive Director Bruce Dart over the weekend and our own district health data review process, I have made the difficult decision to shift all of our students in pre-kindergarten through third grade back to distance learning through the last day of classes before winter break, Friday, Dec. 18.”

The decision also extends to the district’s deaf education and special education students who have been receiving in-person instruction since August.

According to the Tulsa County Health Department, there are 5,037 active COVID-19 cases in Tulsa County as of Nov. 30. The county’s seven-day rolling average of new cases has more than doubled over the month of November, from 175.3 on Nov. 1 to 438.4 at month’s end. That figure is expected to climb even higher in the near future due to Thanksgiving travel.

As per the most recent color-coded alert map released by the Oklahoma State School Board Association using the alert system developed by the Oklahoma State Department of Education, Tulsa County, along with 73 other counties across the state, is considered to be in the red zone. School districts in red zone counties, or those with a per capita case count of 50 or more, are encouraged to switch to distance learning until the per capita case count drops to 25 or less for every 100,000 residents.

Tulsa Public Schools started the 2020-2021 school year in distance learning due to community spread of the virus. The district’s pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students started in-person instruction on Nov. 9, while those in first, second and third grade began in-person classes on Nov. 16. Students in fourth grade and up are scheduled to have their first day of in-person classes on Jan. 4, 2021.