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In an emergency meeting Monday, the Oklahoma State Board of Education addressed the growing coronavirus pandemic by voting to close all public schools including activities from March 17 to April 6.

The motion read:

To approve order for all accredited public schools to cease operations, effective March 17 until April 6. Cessation of operations to include all instructional services, grading and extracurricular activities, staff development, trainings or conferences, but essential clerical and administrative activities such as business management, nutrition services, maintenance may continue.

The Board voted unanimously for the motion.

“Nothing takes precedence over the health and well-being of our people – nothing,” Oklahoma State Superintendent of Schools Joy Hofmeister told the Board at the beginning of the meeting. “There are hurdles we as an agency will address so that schools may remain closed as long as is needed to protect the health and well-being of our children, our students, our teachers who serve them and all sorts of staff who serve in our school communities, their families and the broader communities across the state.”

Fluid situation

Several times during the meeting and in the news conference afterward, Hofmeister said, “This is a dynamic situation that is very fluid.”

“Learning is secondary to this but we are concerned about learning, too,” said Hofmeister.

Member Estella Hernandez expressed concern about students who need nutritious meals that may not be available if school is closed. Hofmeister said that the two waivers given by the USDA Saturday will allow for delivering and grab and go.

Board member Jennifer Monies asked about testing. Hofmeister said that the testing window is still in place. OKSDE staff are working with the testing contractors now on possible scenarios.

closes schools
The Oklahoma State Board of Education considers a motion March 16, 2020, to close all schools in the state in response to the coronavirus pandemic. (Brett Dickerson/Okla City Free Press)

Hofmeister said that they were not going to allow children to come and be assessed under circumstances that would disadvantage the students. “That would not be the right thing,” she said.

Having meetings with our education coalition to insure we are thinking through everything thoroughly.

“This requires a state-wide answer,” Hofmeister said toward the end of the meeting. “This is a state-wide system and we need to act with one voice.”

Hernandez asked about childcare waivers. Hofmeister said they are still in the process of working that out and don’t have that answer.

Effects on OKCPS

Free Press talked to OKCPS Superintendent Sean McDaniel after the Board adjourned about the effects the actions just taken would have on OKCPS.

Supt Sean McDaniel
OKCPS Superintendent Sean McDaniel. (Brett Dickerson/Okla City Free Press)

An emergency meeting of the OKCPS Board was already planned for Tuesday morning.

“Clearly at this point, we have no say-so in whether we are having school,” said McDaniel.

Originally, the district was considering if they would need to extend spring break beyond Monday, March 23.

The district had already closed school one day early the Friday before spring break was to begin.

He went on to say that he appreciated the action the state Board took to close all schools. Now, the meeting Tuesday would be to begin preparations to implement their part of the state-wide closure which would, in effect, extend spring break.

Prepared statements

Oklahoma City Public Schools sent out a statement after the state board meeting.

“Together, we are facing an unprecedented health crisis in our community,” said OKCPS Superintendent Sean McDaniel in a prepared statement. “In our response to COVID-19, OKCPS and other districts must depend on the wisdom of our health experts and elected officials and lean on the resolve of our strong community.”

“I am grateful for State Superintendent Hofmeister’s leadership during this crisis and for the State Board of Education’s action today. This will now allow OKCPS and other districts to remain closely aligned as we finalize our response,” McDaniel said.

Governor Stitt gave his support for the move, too.

“This decision is not made lightly, but it is the right thing to do based on current guidance from the CDC,” said Governor Kevin Stitt in a prepared statement. “This closure will allow us time to further understand how COVID-19 is affecting Oklahoma and give students and staff a period of time to be protected from further community spread of the virus. We know closing schools has a significant impact on families, and we are committed to doing what we can to lessen that impact as we work to prioritize the health and safety of all Oklahomans.”


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