The Oklahoma City Public Schools Board of Education voted unanimously to declare an emergency Tuesday morning where they also granted extended powers to Superintendent Sean McDaniel.
The action was in response to the growing coronavirus or COVID-19 pandemic taking on larger proportions in the U.S. and state hourly.
The move allows the district more freedom to respond to the crisis, one being to give the superintendent more power to make decisions and take actions that would normally be brought to the full Board for them to make.
This came less than 24 hours after the Oklahoma State Board of Education (OkSDE) voted Monday to order closed all public schools, which includes publicly-funded charter schools and online schools, to close until April 6.
After the meeting, Free Press asked McDaniel to sum up what powers he had just been given.
He said the temporary authority he will have without coming to the board for approval will be:
- To deviate from policy as necessary in order to purchase,
- Grant additional leave to employees,
- Create a stipend to get people to come to work,
To sum up, McDaniel said that the action gives him the authority to make policy and practice decisions for which he would normally ask approval from the Board.
McDaniel told the board that he and the staff have already been working on a plan about how to move forward in the current set of circumstances that has a fluid termination point.
He committed to be ready with the plan within 48 hours.
“The Teacher Walkout  gave us a lot of experience,” McDaniel told the Board. “The difference is that then we were trying to get everyone together on the same page. But, this time, we are trying to find a way to keep everyone separate, which is a different challenge.”
OKCPS developed a plan for feeding students during the teacher walkout of 2018 which started during spring break but was sure to continue beyond.
The district’s Board of Education voted to support the walkout and close school.
As a part of that plan, OKCPS worked out a way to deliver meals to students as long as the walkout lasted.
Board members had a number of questions about different issues that McDaniel responded to.
Teacher contracts don’t have any make-up provisions in them, so their contract is set to run over a certain time period.
Hourly employees – about 2,400 in the district – are a different situation. Staff are working on proposals now.
Support staff will be needed especially for the feeding sites, so McDaniel mentioned working out a stipend for those who are in pay limbo while school is out.
Feeding students breakfast and lunch will be a challenge during this time. McDaniel proposed setting a time window in the morning and around lunchtime so that parents and guardians would know when to arrive and pick up food.
Also, they will not be allowing anyone to come inside and eat in order to stay away from people congregating in groups indoors. Instead, the different sites that staff are establishing now will be where people can come and pick up food to take with them.
Every staff member will have their temperature taken at the beginning of each day to ensure that staff members do not infect those being served.
As well, they will have staff controlling the feeding sites to keep people arriving spread out and so that the likelihood of spreading the virus would be minimized.
The district has already contacted the City of Oklahoma City about using some of the parks as places to park a bus where parents can pick up food. City Manager Craig Freeman has agreed to the idea.
He responded to several questions about it from Board members about the feeding situation.
Staff are preparing for the possible extension of the time students are out. It is easy to anticipate that the time may be longer than just to April 6. It depends on the spread of COVID-19.
Staff insurance and PTO will be maintained during this time and statutes allow McDaniel to extend contracts if necessary.
It is not yet known how the OkSDE will respond to questions about advancement through the grades or graduation yet. “We are waiting for guidance,” said McDaniel.
Resources to allow students and parents to access to keep skills up during the time away will be provided although it will not be compulsory.
Pandemic leave will be given although the details are still being worked out.
The board may meet online in the future as long as the public has the ability to observe the meeting.
Students and their families who travel abroad have already been asked to self-quarentine when they come back to avoid possible infection of others. That will continue.
McDaniel said that the OKC-County Health Department has been and will be in close contact with the district to give notice of students in the district who have been diagnosed or suspected to be positive for COVID-19.
To close the meeting, Board Chair Paula Lewis said: “we trust our leadership” in the district and expect things to go well and for the board to be kept informed as decisions are made.
McDaniel told Free Press after the meeting that he plans to let Board members know in advance and then, after he has taken actions that he would normally take to the board for a vote.
The District encourages parents, students and the public to interact on the District’s Facebook page and on Twitter.
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