State Education Department Votes on Monday
All Oklahoma public schools will close until April 6 as state officials make an effort to shield teachers, school staff and more than 700,000 students from the spread of the coronavirus.
The Oklahoma Board of Education voted to approve school closures during an emergency meeting on Monday.
All instruction, grading and extracurricular activities will cease for every public, charter and virtual charter school. Certain administrative and maintenance duties will be allowed to continue for school districts, but all operations at the school level will stop. Schools are already closed this week for spring break.
State Supt. Joy Hofmeister said school closures were “a step that needed to be taken.”
“This is not a simple decision that we bring this recommendation to you today,” Supt. Hofmeister said to the board. “It will be challenging for many families. Nothing takes precedence over the health and well-being of our people–nothing.
“Learning is secondary to this, but learning is on our mind, as well.”
This decision mirrors closures in 35 other states and several large urban districts. At least a dozen colleges and universities in Oklahoma have suspended in-person classes and moved instruction online.
On Sunday, Gov. Kevin Stitt declared a state of emergency for Oklahoma over the rapid spread of the coronavirus, which has infected at least 10 known patients in the state. The World Health Organization has declared the coronavirus, which causes the disease COVID-19, a global pandemic.
The federal Department of Agriculture granted permission for Oklahoma schools to continue meal services during closures. Schools will be allowed to continue serving meals at their sites and could offer “grab-and-go” meals to reduce interaction among participants.
Only schools that participate in the National School Lunch Program’s Seamless Summer Option or the Summer Food Service Program are eligible to serve meals under the agriculture department waivers, according to a news release from the state Department of Education.
Two more waivers are pending with the federal department to allow schools not in high-need areas and sponsors to provide meals.
Stitt said in a news conference Thursday that the state wouldn’t call for school closures until Oklahoma saw community spread of the coronavirus.
On Sunday, Oklahoma City reported the first case of a person contracting the disease locally. The patient, who became the first known instance of community spread in the state, is in Cleveland County.
The governor voiced his support for school closures before the board meeting Monday.
“This decision is not made lightly, but it is the right thing to do, based on current guidance from the CDC,” Gov. Stitt said in a statement.
“This closure will allow us time to further understand how COVID-19 is affecting Oklahoma and give students and staff a period of time to be protected from further community spread of the virus.” Supt.
Hofmeister said the school year could extend into the summer months, depending on how Oklahoma’s situation with COVID-19 evolves.
In a 10-page guidance sheet for school districts, state education officials said they could propose an exemption for schools to go under the minimum length of a school year, which is 180 days or 1,080 hours.
Supt. Hofmeister told reporters that school districts have always had local control over their own school calendars, which means some could take a unique approach to make up school days.
Even if classes resume after April 6, the lengthy closure could effect state tests and school accountability.
The testing window for schools to administer exams lasts from April 20 through May 15.
Supt. Hofmeister said the state would pursue federal waivers to ensure more flexibility with testing. The state board of education could vote on other provisions, as well, such as taking certain measurements of school performance, such as chronic absenteeism, from the first day of the school year through only March 1.
“We are not going to insist on testing if it’s not appropriate, and we have the broad authority to change that,” Supt. Hofmeister said.
“The last thing on the mind of families or school officials needs to be assessment or accountability right now.
“We want them to feel confident that we’re going to have common sense and reasonable expectations and provisions.”