Ray Carter | January 31, 2022
‘Sick out’ at Putnam City schools?
Amidst increasing COVID cases, some Oklahoma schools have temporarily closed for in-person learning in recent weeks, citing insufficient staffing due to illness.
But in at least one district, it appears an effort was made to artificially create a staff shortage and an associated school closure without actual sickness.
In a text sent to various staff at the Putnam City school district and obtained by the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, school employees were encouraged to call in sick and force a school closure.
The Jan. 21 text, provided by a recipient on condition of anonymity, told Putnam City staff that “apparently everyone is putting in an absence tonight for Monday. If it doesn’t go through and we are not virtual by Monday morning, you can just cancel the absence. Up to you if you wanna participate just a heads up that it’s a thing a lot of people are doing. Principals are aware and understanding.”
The message was reportedly sent by union representatives to Putnam City staff.
In 2020-2021, just 13 percent of Putnam City students performed at grade level in all subjects and grades tested.
A Putnam City spokesman said district leaders were not aware of any attempted “sick out.”
“We have not heard of any effort along those lines,” said Jeff Bardach, communications director for Putnam City schools. “School is open today and we actually haven’t had a school in distance learning since last Monday, a week ago today.”
The last known closure referenced by Bardach coincides with the planned “sick out” touted in the Jan. 21 text.
It is not known if or how many staff may have called in sick that day because such requests are considered personnel records exempt from open-records law.
A request for comment was sent to the Putnam City Association of Classroom Teachers via the email address listed on the organization’s Facebook page, but no response was provided.
A Jan. 27 posting on the Putnam City Association of Classroom Teachers Facebook page states, “There is not a teacher shortage. There is a SALARY SHORTAGE.”
In a recent tweet, Oklahoma State School Boards Association Executive Director Shawn Hime noted that Oklahoma’s education funding has increased by $750 million in recent years and that the average Oklahoma teacher salary has “increased by almost $10,000!”
State testing results show that academic outcomes in Putnam City have plummeted amidst COVID shutdowns.
In the 2018-2019 school year, the last with testing prior to COVID, 30 percent of students in the Putnam City district performed at grade level or better in all subjects and grades tested. By 2020-2021, the first year testing was conducted after COVID, just 13 percent of students performed at grade level in all subjects and grades tested with 53 percent of students effectively more than one year behind.
In third-grade English Language Arts, the share of students performing at grade level or better fell from 31 percent in the 2018-2019 school year to just 10 percent in 2020-2021. Test results showed that 63 percent of third grade students in the Putnam City district were effectively more than a year behind in English in 2020-2021.
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.