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OKLAHOMA CITY (Free Press) — Oklahoma City Public Schools is putting the final touches on preparations for in-person school starting Monday as the COVID D variant is increasing its toll in the state.

Superintendent Sean McDaniel acknowledged the uncertainty of the surge in new COVID cases in a news conference Wednesday.

“We know that people, parents, caregivers, teachers, staff are apprehensive because of what we see every night from our living rooms on our television,” said McDaniel.

But, the district is also committed to moving beyond the situation last year of very little to no in-person teaching and learning for large parts of the year.

“We have taken a position at OKCPS, that it is absolutely critical that our kids are in school in person,” McDaniel said. “That is a foundational, big, number one thing on our list right along with keeping kids and faculty and staff safe.”

Several times during last school year McDaniel expressed concerns regarding reports he was receiving about abuse of children who were away from school and essentially trapped all day in a difficult home environment.

McDaniel
Supt. Sean McDaniel, standing, answers questions from the news media Aug. 4, 2021. He is flanked by members of his cabinet. (BRETT DICKERSON/Okla City Free Press)

But, it’s not all worries for McDaniel. He is hopeful about the upcoming school year even with all of the complexities that will come with it.

“I’m not 100% excited right now, but I’m pretty close,” the Superintendent said. “I am so fired up to get school back in session.”

He said that he was confident in the district’s preparations and knows that getting kids “back in the schoolhouse” will provide the much-needed relationships among students and between students and teachers.

“I am anxious, like others. I want to see how this rolls out. I’m confident in the steps we’ve taken,” said McDaniel. “But more than anxious, I am just so excited.”

Flanked by his cabinet, McDaniel opened up the news conference to questions from members of the media.

He gave this information in response to a variety of questions:

COVID

  • Senate Bill 658 passed in the last Oklahoma legislative session will not allow districts to mandate mask wearing. Vaccines are optional.
  • Updated at 10 p.m. Wednesday by district request: For those who test positive, isolation at home will be required and for those in close contact with someone who tested positive, a 14-day quarantine will be “recommended.” District policies on COVID are HERE.
  • From what the district learned last year, they will be ready to shift to distance learning if circumstances of COVID warrant it.
  • All COVID-related decisions will be made not just with one data point but several under the guidance of the Oklahoma City-County Health Department.
  • Classrooms may be sent home for a time or whole schools if COVID infections get worse but they have no desire to “shut down” the district.
  • 60% of 5,000 staff self-report that they have been vaccinated.
  • Last year CARES Act money was spent on putting in ionization equipment in all of the schools. The ionization process covers every part of school buildings.

Staffing

  • McDaniel said that the district is “99% staffed” for the upcoming school year.
  • The district is still looking for special education and grade-level teachers, though.
  • 125 bus drivers have been hired for the 125 routes in the district.
  • They still want to hire more to make sure they have enough for times when drivers have to take leave.
  • Bus drivers make $17 per hour, the top rate in the metro and perhaps the state.

Emergency certifications

  • Last year the district went over 400 emergency certifications for teachers by the end of the year.
  • So far, this year, there are 408 emergency certifications a trend statewide.
  • OKCPS is committed to providing training for emergency-certified teachers and all teachers during the school year.
  • All teachers, no matter what their certification are a part of the OKCPS family.

Enrollment

  • As of Wednesday, 30,000 students are enrolled.
  • District officials expect around 33,500 by the time all students are enrolled.
  • They are seeing low enrollment numbers for Pre-K and K levels because of caregivers’ hesitancy to send very small children back into a school environment.
  • Efforts are being made to reach out to those caregivers who might be hesitant about sending their small children back to in-person learning.
  • Year-long commitment to online learning in the E3 program is at 1,000 while 4,500 were enrolled last year.

Technology

  • Devices will be checked out to all students again this year to augment learning.
  • Hotspots purchased last year will be checked out to students who need them.

Teaching difficult history

  • Teachers are being trained on how to stay compliant with House Bill 1775 that restricts certain types of teaching about racial history in the U.S. and current racial issues.
  • If parents are concerned about what has been taught in the classroom, they should start with the teacher.
  • If not satisfied, they should go to the principal.
  • If still not satisfied, the parent can fill out a form on the district website that will lodge the complaint
  • The district’s general legal counsel will then coordinate the response and investigation.

School begins Monday, August 9. For more information visit OKCPS.org.

Last Updated August 10, 2021, 2:25 PM by Brett Dickerson – Editor