Ray Carter | December 10, 2020

Democratic leader touts resumption of in-school learning

Ray Carter

In an indication of growing public displeasure with school shutdowns, the leader of the Oklahoma Senate’s Democratic caucus has called Oklahoma schools’ back-and-forth shifting to online learning “not healthy” and “traumatic,” and said her caucus supports resumption of in-person learning.

“One of our biggest priorities is going to be continuing to combat COVID-19 and all the tentacles that are involved with that, the way it’s affected education and the virtual learning versus in-school learning, and the strain and the stress that’s had on parents and educators and business,” said Sen. Kay Floyd, D-Oklahoma City. “We can’t keep doing this ebb and flow where they’re in school, they’re out of school, they’re in school, they’re out of school. It’s not healthy for the children and it’s been traumatic for the parents and for business and for educators and first responders.”

Floyd made her comments during a question-and-answer segment at the State Chamber of Oklahoma’s Virtual Public Affairs Forum, held online Wednesday.

Floyd’s comments come amid growing public unrest in areas where schools are not providing in-person instruction as an option for families.

Parents from across the state recently banded together to form Parent Voice Oklahoma, an organization that works to elevate the role of parents in school decisions across the state. The organization reports having established local chapters in several communities. Resumption of full-time, in-person instruction is a goal of many parents involved in that organization.

Recent polling has also shown strong support for school choice policies that allow parents “to use tax dollars raised for their child’s education to send their child to the school of their choice whether it is public, private, online, or charter.” Many private schools have provided in-person instruction when local public schools have not.

Parental displeasure with school closings has been displayed in other ways. In Stillwater, parents filed a lawsuit in September to challenge district leaders’ decision not to reopen for in-person instruction.

In other communities, parents have held protests and signed petitions calling for the reopening of school.

The Oklahoma Education Association (OEA), the state branch of the National Education Association, has been among the most vocal opponents of in-person instruction.

On Dec. 2, OEA president Alicia Priest issued a statement declaring that “the reason many schools are learning remotely is because of community spread. If we want kids to go to school in person, we need to control the virus.”

COVID-19 infections among children remain much lower than among adults, and it is believed that children are not a typical source of viral spread to adults. According to a state report, only 8.4 percent of new Oklahoma cases of COVID-19 reported from Nov. 27 to Dec. 3 were among children age 14 and younger.

On Nov. 19, Robert Redfield, the director of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, noted that the CDC “did not recommend school closures” last spring and does not recommend school closures today.

“I will say back in the spring there was limited data,” Redfield said. “Today, there is extensive data that we have, we’ve gathered over the last two to three months, that confirm that K-12 schools can operate with face-to-face learning, and they can do it safely and they can do it responsibly. The infections that we’ve identified in schools, when they’ve been evaluated, were not acquired in schools. They were actually acquired in the community and in the household.”

On its Facebook page, the OEA has highlighted the recent death of Mid-Del bus driver Brenda Grant, who died after testing positive for COVID-19. The news story linked by the union did not indicate Grant contracted the virus while on the job.

The OEA similarly highlighted a news story that reported two employees at Tulsa Public Schools died after testing positive for COVID-19. However, that news report stated that the Tulsa district “emphasized it does not have confirmation of the official causes of death for either person.” In an email quoted in the story, Deputy Superintendent Paula Shannon said it was “scary” to “think about the possibility that COVID-19 could have played a role.”

Notably, Tulsa Public Schools has been fully online for most of the school year, and only briefly allowed students in pre-K through third grade to resume in-person instruction. The district has since required those students to shift back to distance learning for the remainder of December.

Floyd indicated her caucus supports more state funding for schools, including for anti-viral efforts, but stressed that her caucus wants “to get the kids back in safely and consistently and back in the classroom where they can learn.”

Ray Carter Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter

Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.

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