Ray Carter | March 3, 2021

School board group pushes closures despite COVID plunge

Ray Carter

The number of Oklahomans testing positive for COVID-19 has plunged 80 percent since early January, but the Oklahoma State School Boards Association continues to tout guidance calling for school closures in at least 14 counties, almost one-fifth of the state, and potentially as many as 48 counties.

In one instance, the OSSBA website suggests schools should be closed in a county with only six active COVID-19 cases.

According to the state Weekly Epidemiology and Surveillance Report, the number of COVID-19 cases reported per week has fallen from 29,152 cases the week of January 8 to 14 to just 5,680 cases from Feb. 19 to Feb. 25 (the most recent available), a decline of 80.5 percent.

Since Jan. 8, the number of positive COVID-19 cases reported each week in Oklahoma has declined every week.

Yet a COVID-19 map maintained by the Oklahoma State School Boards Association (OSSBA) continues to indicate schools across Oklahoma should be closed to full-time, in-person instruction.

The OSSBA map is color-coded based on Oklahoma State Department of Education guidelines that recommend that districts “give serious consideration to distance learning or carefully managed alternative schedules (A/B weeks, hybrid models, etc.) until community transmission declines” when cases rise above 25 cases per 100,000 population.

The OSSBA map for the week ending Feb. 25 still indicates schools should be closed in 14 such counties: Beaver, Bryan, Carter, Cimarron, Comanche, Cotton, Garfield, Grant, Logan, Nowata, Pontotoc, Sequoyah, Tulsa, and Washington counties.

Data posted by the Oklahoma State Department of Health show that as of March 2 the raw number of active COVID-19 cases in some of those counties was extremely low with just six active cases in Cimarron County, 15 in Grant County, and 23 in Beaver County.

As recently as the week ending Feb. 11, OSSBA’s map indicated that schools in 69 counties should be closed for full-time, in-person instruction.

In addition, the most recent OSSBA map indicates schools in another 34 counties should potentially close today, based on OSDE guidance that suggests schools in counties with COVID-19 rates above 14.29 per 100,000 population should “utilize strategies to ensure strict social distancing for in-person learning, or transition to distance learning.”

Frustrated by long-term closure of schools even as other districts in neighboring communities safely reopened for full-time, in-person instruction, parents across the state have called for lawmakers to approve legislation this year allowing for recall elections for school board members.

Schools pay the OSSBA for various services, including legislative lobbying, and the OSSBA’s lobbying focus this year has included opposition to the recall-election legislation.

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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