Oklahoma City Public Schools announced a big step Friday morning in their fight to reduce the spread of COVID-19 within the district. OKCPS is requiring everyone to wear a mask on district property including on transportation.
This requirement goes into effect on Monday.
Superintendent Sean McDaniel said he made the decision to put the masking requirements into place because the number of positive COVID cases spiked sharply at the district this week.
Several COVID-19 cases were initially reported a few days ago among staff and students before school started, but, by fourth day of classes, the case numbers spiked sharply to more than 100 positive cases.
“When we started school and began to see the numbers go up very very quickly, we did not believe we had done everything we needed to do,” McDaniel said.
He said the mitigation strategies that were already in place in the district’s "Return to Learn Plan" were not enough to maintain a safe environment and avoid closing the schools.
The district added this two-pronged approach; mask requirements, and vaccination incentives.
Along with the mask requirement, teachers can receive a $1,000 stipend for getting vaccinated by providing proof of vaccination by Nov. 15.
The mask requirement and steps to opt-out of it are modeled after current state immunization law which states children have to get certain shots to come to school.
“If I have a religious reason, if I have a health condition, or if I have a personal reason, I can fill out a form and I can opt-out of the immunization,” he said.
He said all forms to opt-out must be approved in terms of the statutory criteria.
The Delta variant continues to infect unvaccinated people at high rates.
There is still no vaccine available for children under the age of 12.
Oklahoma City-County Health Department (OCCHD) officials warn against community spread that could start with higher infection rates in the schools.
“It’s imperative that anyone that can wear a mask should probably be wearing one indoors in a school setting,” said Phil Maytubby with OCCHD.
He said the high infection rates during the first few days of school did not bode well for in-person learning plans.
“It looked like it was going to be impossible under the circumstances to keep the school open,” he said.
McDaniel said opportunities to get a vaccine on campus are coming before fall break for secondary students who have permission and for district staff.
Staff will not be required to get vaccinated as a condition of their employment because of the immediate consequences to kids, which might include larger class sizes if a percentage of teachers refuse the vaccine, McDaniel said.