Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt and state health leaders held a press conference Tuesday to announce changes to in-school quarantine guidelines.
In an effort to keep teachers in students in schools, Stitt and the state department of health said schools following proper COVID-19 safety protocols will be able to skip the mandatory two-week quarantine period for possible virus exposures.
“We need to put our students first, and we need to get them back in class,” said Gov. Stitt. “Refusing to offer in-person school is jeopardizing our kids' education; it’s jeopardizing teachers' careers; and it’s jeopardizing the future of the State of Oklahoma. Today, we’re announcing a new policy that will help us keep schools open safely. It will also help encourage and reward mask wearing in schools across the state. Moving forward, schools that enforce the use of masks will not have to quarantine students that were potentially exposed to COVID-19 unless they are showing symptoms.”
A news release from the governor’s office stated schools should continue to require quarantines for students that were exposed where masking and social distancing protocols were not followed, as well as if the exposure occurred during after-school activities, including sports.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister released the following statement in response to the new policy:
"The ramifications of the pandemic on education have been challenging and severe. While this option underscores the need for mask requirements in school, I cannot in good conscience support ignoring quarantine guidelines from the CDC and other infectious disease experts. There is no doubt we all want our students and teachers to be safely in the classroom, but COVID is raging in Oklahoma. In-person instruction is critical, and so is mitigating the spread of the virus. They are not mutually exclusive."
The following are responses from local school districts:
Oklahoma City Public Schools
I am very grateful for the Governor’s interest in Oklahoma City Public Schools (OKCPS) and how we are addressing the pandemic. We are all especially pleased that he has moved our teachers and other school and district personnel into Phase 2 of the state’s vaccination plan.
This afternoon, Governor Stitt announced a change to the guidelines related to the quarantine of school staff and students who have been exposed to COVID-19. The guidance does not appear to follow CDC guidelines and deviates dramatically from best practice as it relates to mitigation efforts in school buildings. While I can appreciate the Governor’s passion and desire to provide an in-person opportunity to all of our students, I strongly believe that these decisions must be made at the district level with ample input from the public health experts that we have come to rely on. Until we hear more from our public health partners, OKCPS will continue with our current contract tracing and isolation processes that align with their existing guidance. OKCPS’ goal from the onset of the pandemic has been to return to in-person learning when it was safe and responsible to do so, and we are moving in that direction.
Edmond Public Schools
"Until we can thoroughly review the written guidance from the State Department of Health, as well as the documents and science cited in making the policy revision, we will continue to follow the revised CDC quarantine guidance that was announced on December 2, 2020. "
Public Information Officer/Director of Community Engagement
Today, Governor Stitt and the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) shared a new policy change affecting quarantine protocols in Oklahoma Public Schools. The district has not seen any documentation for this policy and we will continue to follow our current protocols that align with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) as well as the Oklahoma City-County Health Department (OCCHD).
In the fall, Mid-Del Schools revised our quarantine policy to reflect the CDC's changes in guidelines. We will continue to work with healthcare professionals to determine the best practices for our student and staff safety.
Thank you for your continued support of our Mid-Del students and staff.
Dr. Rick Cobb
Superintendent of Mid-Del Schools
Guthrie Public Schools
This afternoon, Governor Stitt and the Oklahoma State Department of Health announced changes to the procedures for quarantining students in the schools of our state. We are awaiting specific details of the changes discussed at today’s press conference. When those details are provided to us, we will evaluate if changes are needed in our COVID-19 Protocols or practices. We continue to await official guidance from the Oklahoma State Department of Health and the Oklahoma State Department of Education. All quarantines will continue until we receive such guidance. At that time, we will evaluate each quarantine individually for potential modification. Thank you for your continued patience as we navigate the events of today.
Mustang Public Schools
Some of you may have heard that the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) announced today a new policy change that could affect quarantining in school. We look forward to seeing this new OSDH policy in writing, but we will continue to follow science-based protocols vetted by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and health professionals. The health and safety of our school community is, and always has been, our number one priority. We have developed numerous COVID-related safety procedures as indicated in our Health/Safety Plan, and we believe in the efficacy of that plan. At this time, we do not anticipate any changes to our Plan including quarantine practices. We are following the revised CDC Quarantine Guidance that was announced late last semester. We developed and have monitored our protocols in conjunction with our local and state health partners, and we will continue to follow public health guidance and safety protocols while monitoring the metric of staff absenteeism rates to ensure that schools can operate effectively and safely.
Charles Bradley, Superintendent
Mustang Public Schools
Yukon Public Schools
The Oklahoma State Department of Health and Governor Stitt announced a policy change this afternoon that could affect the way we quarantine our staff and students for exposure in Yukon Public Schools.
The district has not yet seen any documentation for this policy by the state government and are awaiting further directions from the Oklahoma State Department of Education on how to proceed. At this time, we will continue with our Return To Learn plan including our current quarantine process for the district.
Yukon Public Schools previously revised our quarantine policy to reflect the CDC’s updated guidelines based on the scientific data provided. If and when we make changes to our quarantine policy, it will be done in an effort to improve education without sacrificing safety and we will alert all parents, staff and students immediately.
YPS is pleased to provide options for all of our stakeholders, including those who returned to in-person learning this week and will continue with current policies until further notice.
Thank you for your cooperation and understanding as we move forward in a cautious and responsible manner.
Dr. W. Jason Simeroth
Superintendent, Yukon Public Schools
Oklahoma Education Association
Oklahoma Education Association President Alicia Priest called the governor’s message confusing and issued the following response:
“The governor and his team have many of the same values as the educators who make up the OEA. We want what’s best for kids. We believe everyone should have a great public school no matter where they live. In-person learning is best for teachers and students. We can’t wait for COVID-19 to be completely gone before school goes back to normal.
“But the governor’s remarks are confusing.
“The governor says schools are safe, but what is he doing to ensure that? He calls for no quarantining when there is a mask policy but won’t demand strong mask policies. He cherry picks data instead of holistically tackling the pandemic. Even sources cited by the governor say that school buildings are no longer safe when community spread reaches dangerous levels.
“He preaches local control unless he disagrees with local choices. Local school boards, who listen to parents in their communities, are the decision makers for our Oklahoma schools.
“The governor says schools aren’t open, but where are all these schools that aren’t open? Many educators and support professionals have been battling the pandemic while teaching, feeding students, and keeping everyone safe. Burnout is real, and many have been sick. Some have died. Don’t accuse teachers of not trying when they are in the fire right now.
“Time is running out for our kids this school year. The governor needs to stop using his time dividing teachers and parents. His No. 1 priority should be mitigating the spread of the virus — not scapegoating local school boards, pitting parents against teachers, or avoiding responsibility.”