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The Board of Education for Oklahoma City Public Schools met in a special meeting Tuesday to address the ever-changing situation of COVID-19 beginning to run amok in Oklahoma.

The board voted seven for and one abstention to push back the start date of the school year from August 10 to August 31.

The concern was to give the district and the Oklahoma State Board of Education time to adjust to the spiking pandemic in Oklahoma and across the nation. Board member Charles Henry was the one abstaining.

A second vote was for the district’s adjusted Back to School plan with the biggest change being to have the district’s education delivered to all students in all grades through virtual (online) education the first nine weeks.

The third vote was for an agenda item worded thus:

Delegate Authority to the Superintendent to Make Any/All Necessary Adjustments (if/as Needed) to Any Aspect of the 2020-2021 School Year in Response to the Constantly Changing Variables of the COVID-19 Global Pandemic, to Protect the Best Interests of Students and Staff

Expanded powers

Superintendent Sean McDaniel said that the situation continues to change daily as to what might happen next with the pandemic and the government’s response to it.

He explained that every time there is a need to make adjustments to the Back to School plan (see below) under current conditions he would need to file for a new board meeting and wait 48 hours for a new special board meeting.

Some members of the board had some hesitation about turning over that kind of high-level control of the district to McDaniel. But, before the vote, McDaniel said, “If there is any angst (anxiety) about this, I will just keep asking the board to come back for special meetings.”

All members except for Henry agreed, including the superintendent, to have informational work sessions for McDaniel to report on current events and what he had done to respond.

Some members expressed that the board and McDaniel had developed a relationship of trust over time and they needed to let the superintendent and his team respond quickly to the situation.

Board Member Henry objected to giving McDaniel expanded, temporary powers but the board voted 7-1 with Henry delivering the lone dissenting vote.

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All virtual

As explained by Deputy Superintendent Jason Brown, the virtual delivery will be through a contract online education provider named Edgenuity that is self-paced or for being taught by one of the OKCPS classroom teachers who will start the year doing full virtual education but pacing whole classes at a normal pace through the curriculum.

OKCPS already had plans in place for those students who wanted to do an all-virtual option where they could earn credits at their own pace with Edgenuity’s online teachers providing guidance and the district keeping track of the student through reporting from the service.

The biggest change was from the other branch of the original plan which was to have in-person classroom instruction blended with some in-class and homework virtual exercises to move students into a mode where they would be accustomed to interacting with their teacher virtually.

Instead, for students whose parents choose to have their students work at the normal classroom pace only virtually will start the year with 100% virtual connection to their assigned teacher.

The plan is to remain flexible within those nine weeks and assess the pandemic situation to develop a response as the end of the nine weeks nears

Concerns

Several board members expressed concerns about the safety of not only students but teachers as well.

Carrie Jacobs was concerned about how much administrators would be in proximity to each other. She used as a cautionary example of the Arizona teacher who had been teaching virtual summer school but in the school building. Eventually, she contracted COVID-19 and died.

Ruth Veales asked questions about whether the district was going to do training for teachers who were adept at in-person teaching but had no experience in virtual teaching.

Brown responded that they were going to have training and that it would be virtual so as to keep teachers from being required to be in close proximity in this time of the pandemic.

The meeting closed with the open-ended reality that the State Board of Education will meet Thursday to develop a response to the pandemic which could pre-empt a number of plans of the district.


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