The Oklahoma State Board of Education convened Thursday morning to discuss the growing concern about how the state is doing in the fight against COVID-19. Hospitalizations, deaths, and the number of new cases keep rising every day.
The state board said it will not add a mask mandate. Instead, members strongly recommend face coverings in schools.
“The state board of education implores Oklahoma school boards and districts to require students and staff to wear face masks on public school campuses,” said Joy Hofmeister, Oklahoma State Superintendent.
“I fear that if we don't do this, our schools will need to close because of increasing infections,” said Dr. Steve Crawford, family physician.
Recently, the state recorded over 4,500 positive cases in one day. Health officials said that 68% of hospital admissions come from non-mask wearing cities, compared to 32% in areas which require masks.
“I think that the school system, like several metro communities, should take the stand this should be statewide,” said Dr. Dwight Sublett, general pediatrician.
Oklahoma City, Edmond, and Norman Public Schools all have mask requirements for those attending in-person classes. But some board members said it would be difficult to enforce a mandate to all 77 counties.
What you're asking these districts to do is either wear a mask or we take your accreditation away,” said Estela Hernandez, board member. “That's a very troublesome message that you're sending to districts.”
The board also called on districts to follow other recommendations, including enhanced cleaning inside schools and for parents to watch for COVID-19 symptoms.
Officials with the Oklahoma Education Association said the following about the board's decision:
"This is a complete lack of leadership with potentially grave consequences for our students, educators, support professionals, and communities."
The Oklahoma State Department of Health said they will soon provide more rapid testing opportunities for teachers.