A group of six Stillwater parents and their attorney are asking a Payne County judge to order Stillwater Public Schools to resume in-person classes fulltime.
The district, citing an elevated COVID-19 infection rate in the county began a four-week stint with a split schedule on Monday, alternating students between in-person and virtual learning.
“We haven’t had any learning yet this year,” said Dawndra Berkenbile, one of the parents behind the civil suit. “We’re googling more for answers than we’re learning anything.”
The civil action asks District Court Judge Stephen Kistler to grant a temporary injunction to force the school district to return to traditional classes. In the petition, the parents and attorney Noah Fontanez claim Stillwater school administrators have “failed and continue to fail in its duty to educate” students.
“It is very important and of the highest priority that something be done now,” Fontanez said.
Payne County’s infection rate has been among the highest in Oklahoma in recent months. Health officials point to the return of Oklahoma State University students as a contributing factor to the spread.
Stillwater Superintendent Dr. Marc Moore said the district has been listening to a variety of voices when constructing their learning plan, including parents and health officials.
“What we’ve done is try to take all those perspectives, combine them and then make the decision that’s best for kids,” he said. “We believe we're making the best decision with the information that we have.”
With an infection rate of 38.6 cases per 100,000 people, Payne County falls within the Oklahoma State Department of Education’s “Orange Level 2,” where districts are recommended to “give serious consideration to distance learning or carefully managed alternative schedules.”
Berkenbile and Andrea Wilson, another parent listed in the lawsuit, both said their children are struggling to engage with online classes.
“They’re not educating our kids. We’ve done the petitions, we’ve done the emailing, we’ve done the asking, we don’t know what else to do,” Wilson said. “The risk of COVID is one risk. The risk of their emotional health. The risk of their educational health, the risk of their physical health… (Stillwater school administrators are) not looking at those risks.”