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Oklahoma City Public Schools will begin the first-ever all-virtual school start Monday with fewer students and financial strains from the upending effects of the pandemic.

The district plans to do virtual instruction of some sort for the first nine weeks and will evaluate whether to continue in that mode about halfway through this first nine weeks.

However, at a Friday news conference held outside at Southeast High School on the south side, district administration members were upbeat and confident about Monday having started preparations for the all-virtual start in July.

In contrast, some districts around the nation and in the state have attempted to start in-person instruction in August only to have to change course to all-virtual because of a sudden infection rise in teachers and the student body.

school start
Dr Sean McDaniel, superintendent of OKCPS, answers questions at a press conference Friday, 8-28-20. (BRETT DICKERSON/Okla City Free Press)

All students have been receiving their notepads or laptops and for those who need them, hotspots to achieve internet connectivity.

Athletics and other activities are being conducted carefully under rigorous distancing and cleanliness regimens to protect students, coaches, and directors.

District officials encourage students, parents, and guardians to check https://www.okcps.org to find a number of resources and get most of their questions answered there. Tutorials for how to engage with the district virtual curriculum is one of the key resources now as families prepare for the Monday start.

Student count

At the news conference, Superintendent Sean McDaniel said that at present the district has “about 34,000” students enrolled and could have as many as another 1,000 that they have are still in the process of contacting to see if they expect to be back this year.

He said their projection for the year was to have somewhere around 35,000.

“Our enrollment number is looking good. It’s coming in about where we thought it would be,” said McDaniel.

“I want to just encourage everybody to enroll. Once you enroll, you can get your teacher assignment, your class schedule, you can pick up a device, everything happens.”

But, that number comes in at about 3,000 to 4,000 less than enrollment numbers in the past several years. Officials have acknowledged that due to demographic changes in the population and due to some loss to virtual schools and neighboring districts OKCPS has been steadily losing numbers over the last five years.

Stress

McDaniel said that district personnel have been preparing for dealing with student and caregiver stress during these extraordinary times. And, it’s not just stress from disease fear that the district is expecting among its students.

“This is a very stressful time,” McDaniel said. “Not just because of COVID although that is huge. When we talk about stress, there is Racial unrest, social unrest. There is a huge, very polarizing election on the horizon. There are a lot of things that contribute to stress.”

“What we know about kids, while they are resilient, … they’re also isolated right now. And that takes a toll on our kids. And further that takes a toll on their caregiver.”

The superintendent pointed to the new standard of one counselor for every school which was one of the features touted as a part of last year’s Pathways to Greatness plan that consolidate schools across the district.

He said the district now has Dr. Ken Elliot as the director of mental health and is coordinating student support through the school counselors.

“Our message is we believe we can support you,” said McDaniel.

Meals

The district had time in the last quater of last school year to hammer out workable systems of delivering meals to those students who depended upon the district for nutrition.

Parents and guardians have been instructed on how to pick up meals at their neighborhood schools.

However, unlike last spring, this year a student ID or some way to determine enrollment will have to be shown before meals can be picked up.

Money

In response to questions from the gathered media, McDaniel acknowledged that like Tulsa, OKCPS was not made financially whole by CARES Act funds the district received.

This school year, the expense of paying for online platforms to connect with students and deliver the curriculum is a large expense along with many others that has put a strain on the district McDaniel explained.

“We will be in dire straights if we don’t continue to get funded,” the superintendent said.

Remote or virtual learning

Deputy Superintendent Jason Brown answered questions about the district’s virtual learning options.

Jason Brown
Jason Brown, deputy superintendent for Oklahoma City Public Schools answers questions at a media event about new buses in the district’s fleet in 2019. (file, Brett Dickerson/Okla City Free Press)

In short, students have two options: One is to sign up for “E3” which is student-paced learning from the Edgenuity platform. The other is using a different curriculum from Florida that is in sync with the daily classroom schedule and connects students to their OKCPS classroom teacher period by period.

The E3 option involves the student signing up to use that option for the year. The other keeps the student connected directly to their classroom teacher if the district chooses to start in-person instruction or if it continues with virtual instruction.

Readers have asked and Free Press asked whether or not OKCPS teachers would be the ones who have the teaching relationship with the students who sign up for the E3 option.

Brown answered that the district has paid for the Edgenuity platform but not for their teachers to connect with OKCPS students. Instead, OKCPS teachers will monitor student’s work and continue to foster a teaching relationship with each assigned student throughout the year.

However, Brown said that they are reserving the right to take advantage of the company’s teachers if they have a particular need that the district cannot provide.


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