Since mid-March, Oklahoma schools have sat vacant. This summer initially brought hope that kids would return to the halls but as COVID-19 cases started to spike, area schools had to go back to the chalkboard.
“Understatement of the year but this has been the most unusual of all time in my 35-plus years,” said Dr. Sean McDaniel, Superintendent for Oklahoma City Public Schools.
Oklahoma City Schools will start the year 100% online. Dr. McDaniel admits it wasn't an easy decision, but he believes it's the best and safest one.
“It seems like every time we get something figured out where you can take care of people, in doing that it exposes other areas where you have to run over here and take care of this,” said McDaniel.
He worries about kids in harm's way or those hungry at home as well as parents who may lose their jobs to stay home with their children. He said he and his staff are still working on solutions. It’s a concern all of the superintendents we spoke with share.
“It has been very difficult emotionally because as we try to make these decisions, we know they just affect families,” said Edmond Public Schools Superintendent Bret Towne.
Edmond is offering a virtual option, but the rest of the students will begin the year in a blended scenario where kids will go to school two days a week and be online the other three.
“When we started looking at how we would socially distance in schools we did a calculation there’s no way we could do it,” said Towne.
“[It’s] been the hardest summer of our careers. Unprecedented,” said Dr. Jason Simeroth, Yukon Public Schools Superintendent.
Yukon is offering a blended option like Edmond and an all virtual option. Originally a majority of kids were going to be able to return to class five days a week. However, late last week Simeroth reconsidered after several positive COVID-19 tests within the district.
“It’s going to be difficult. I feel for the parents who have to work. They don’t have daycare for their students,” said Simeroth.
All three districts will be watching a statewide COVID-19 alert map to make decisions and superintendents plan to alter their plans as their particular county changes. An improvement from orange to yellow or green in Oklahoma County could mean Edmond and Oklahoma City schools will bring back students full-time.
“We will be prepared, literally overnight, to bring kids back,” said McDaniel.
Flexibility is one of the main points therapist Jenni Ross said will get us all through this.
“Flexible for what the school districts are doing or flexible with when school is starting or flexible with their hours and understanding everyone is doing the best they can,” said Ross.
Ross said we need to be informed of what is going on, understanding every family has individual needs and concerns. She said we should have patience with educators and kids and should cooperate with the school district and administrators, even if you have a different view. You should also be ready for change at any time. A conversation with your kids can help ease their stress of returning to the classroom.
“Saying ‘I know this is tough’ and ‘I know there are a lot of unknowns.’ Give that empathy and compassion. Say ‘You know, I’ve been reading, and it looks like your school is doing everything they can to keep everybody safe,’” said Ross.
Right now, all superintendents we spoke with said they are doing everything they can to be prepared for whatever happens next.
“We’ll get back to normal at some point. I just don’t know when that is. I just don’t know when that is,” said Simeroth.