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Oklahoma State Board approves distance learning for the remainder of the school year

Staff Writer
The Shawnee News-Star

OKLAHOMA CITY – The State Board of Education unanimously approved an order that implements a Distance Learning Plan to complete the 2019-20 school year for Oklahoma students without reopening school buildings. The approval comes as numbers grow for positive COVID-19 cases in the state.

“Oklahoma has tremendous educators – strong, dedicated, tenacious and smart. We have faith and confidence that our districts and teachers are committed to creative and innovative ways to continue learning for their students, and they will rise to this challenge,” said State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister. “Distance Learning Plans will look different from district to district. Many districts have used online tools for some time and will be able to hit the ground running. Others have little connectivity and communities with little or no access to computer technology. I know the hard-working educators in our districts will pull together to make this adjustment to benefit all learners.”

Beginning April 6, districts will be expected to provide distance learning for the rest of the school year. District leaders will also provide assurances to the Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE) of a Distance Learning Plan and ensure services continue for English learners and special education students.

“Our education communities are tough, resilient and committed. They know, as we all do, that we are all in this together. If this pandemic underscores anything, it is that we must help one another,” Hofmeister said. “We understand the challenges all Oklahomans are facing, and we know we can count on our schools to provide the best education possible in a way that ensures the safety and health of students and everyone in the school and community.”

OSDE will provide distance learning frameworks and resources on its website in the coming days. In addition, the agency is exploring how federal assistance could help digital connectivity for some districts. OETA, Oklahoma’s educational public TV network, will also provide help. In partnership with OSDE, OETA will broadcast instructional daytime programming for the state’s PreK-12 students.

While education will resume on April 6 with distance learning, there will not be traditional, in-person instruction or extracurricular activities. Districts will be expected to following critical safety guidance from the Centers for Disease Control with regard to social distancing for students, staff and school families.

For the graduating class of 2020, each district will adopt a plan that establishes the assessment or assessments those students are required to take in order to graduate.

The State Board took action on multiple waivers – ranging from school calendars to loosening current restrictions on funds – aimed at giving districts greater flexibility to respond to the needs of their students and communities.

Oklahoma schools closed as state coronavirus infections rise

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The Oklahoma State Board of Education voted Wednesday to close public schools statewide for the remainder of the school year and to turn to distance learning in an effort to limit the spread of the coronavirus, which has now infected 164 Oklahomans.

The vote came as the state Department of Health reported an increase in the number of cases from 106 on Tuesday and the number of deaths from three to five.

Closing schools and implementing distance learning, which had been prohibited in the state, are "drastic steps" but are necessary to slow the spread of the virus, state schools Superintendent Joy Hofmeister said.

"This is not likely to be short term, but I do want people to remember, it is temporary, it isn't permanent," Hofmeister said. "It is also 100% worth the struggle that schools and families will go through to keep our families safe."

A second state lawmaker, Rep. Jason Lowe, D-Oklahoma City, said he tested positive for the virus, a day after Sen. Paul Rosino, R-Oklahoma City, said he has the disease. Both lawmakers said they were self-isolating and recovering at home.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death.

The two latest deaths were both men from Oklahoma County, according to the Oklahoma City-County Health Department. One older than 65 and the other was between the ages of 35 and 50.

Oklahoma's first death was a Tulsa County man in his 50s last week, the second death, a Pawnee County man in his 50s, was reported Sunday and the third, a Cleveland County woman, was announced Tuesday.

The Health Department said the virus has now spread into 27 counties, up from 19 on Tuesday when Gov. Kevin Stitt ordered non-essential businesses to shut down in counties where the coronavirus had been detected. The governor ordered elderly and vulnerable Oklahomans to stay indoors until April 30, except for essential travel, such as to pick up groceries and prescriptions.