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Nearly 150 Oklahoma City Public Schools teachers have added their support to a letter asking for the district to delay students returning to in-person learning until the new semester in January.

The letter expresses concern for the “physical safety of our students, staff, and teachers,” and asks for in-person learning to be postponed until the next semester begins in January.

The district is planning for the return of all grades to schools Monday, November 9. Pre-K and Kindergarten have already returned to in-person learning on the A/B schedule.

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The letter

Wide-spread testing is promoted in the letter as well as more specific quarantine procedures and the installation of proper air filters.

According to those close to the effort to circulate the letter, teachers who have signed their support come from 29 different elementary, middle schools, and high schools.

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Concerns

Meagan Kenner, a reading intervention teacher at Douglass High School, heard deep concerns being expressed by parents, teachers, and students. She and some others decided to head up the letter drafting process and then circulated it by emailing the link to a Google Document for teachers to give their support.

In her teaching assignment she sees how Oklahoma’s high incarceration rate has resulted in more children close to the poverty level live with older family members who are then made more vulnerable by in-person learning at school.

“I want what’s best for our families,” Kenner told Free Press in a phone call. “And the fact is that COVID-19 has much worse outcomes for Black people, and Latinx people and indigenous folks; and, the fact that our district is less than 80% White, means that we are putting the majority of our students and their families in extra danger. And I personally could not abide by that.”

Union playing catch-up

At first, the effort looked to be a wildcat strike in the making with talks of walkouts because the union that represents OKCPS teachers was seeming slow to respond to the concerns.

The Oklahoma City local of The American Federation of Teachers (AFT-OKC) is the bargaining agent for OKCPS teachers and generally expresses concerns from teachers to the administration.

Leadership for the union had already been in negotiations with the district over when and how to implement a safe return and seemed to some as though they were unwilling to hear further concerns of some of its members.

But, over time, the letter has given teachers who were most concerned about safety an outlet.

Significantly, the President of AFT-OKC, Torrie Shoecraft has held discussions with the teachers who circulated the letter, most members of the union.

AFT-OKC also put a link to the Google Document on their Facebook group page drawing closer to the effort.

Shoecraft was not immediately available for comment.