After an almost entirely virtual fall semester, Oklahoma City Public Schools is planning on having students back in classrooms as early as next month.
OKCPS district released its Return to Learn Plan for the spring semester on Friday, which includes changes to the district’s air filtration systems, increased testing capabilities and added contact tracers.
“We’re not going to take steps forward until we believe it’s the right time to do it,” said Superintendent Dr. Sean McDaniel.
He said the district plans to transition prekindergarten through 4th grade students to split schedules two weeks into the semester on Jan. 19. Middle and high school students will move to a split schedule on Feb. 1.
The new air filtration system, called needlepoint bipolar ionization will be installed in each district building by the end of January.
“We are excited to put this system in place,” said Scott Randall, OKCPS Chief Operations Officer, in a video explaining the new system. “It’s going to give us the highest level of air quality that we can in our school buildings.”
The system has been proved to be effective against the flu and COVID-19 viruses, Randall said. Each building will have the devices installed by the end of January.
OKCPS plans to rely on the Oklahoma City-County Health Department more in the spring. In addition to a general evaluation of mitigation efforts, the department will provide rapid tests to the district.
Every teacher and staff member will be able to receive a rapid test, as well as members of their own household that are over 18. McDaniel said they are not yet aware of the total number of tests OCCHD will provide the district, so it’s not been determined how many tests a single teacher or staff member can take during the semester.
The OCCHD will also advise OKCPS when reverting to virtual classes district-wide will be necessary.
“They’re counseling with us on, ‘here’s what this data means,’” McDaniel said. “We will rely on them to say, ‘the data is such that, you need to shut it down.’”
During the fall, the district automatically moved every class to remote instruction when Oklahoma County’s infection rate reached the “red” level defined by the Oklahoma State School Boards Association.
“We have moved away from that ‘red’ as our single data source,” McDaniel said.
The threshold for the OSSBA’s red level is 50 infections per 100,000 people, which Oklahoma County has exceeded since Nov. 12.
Contact tracers will be available in every school building to help coordinate communication between staff and families in the event someone in a classroom tests positive for the coronavirus.
Although the plan is subject to change, McDaniel said the added mitigation efforts will allow them to feel safe conducting in-person classes. Still, he said emotions are running high as the district starts winter break.
“Between anxiety and gratitude, hope and more anxiety—it’s all over the board right now,” he said.