Oklahoma’s State Board of Education voted Wednesday morning to close public school buildings and adopt distance learning for the rest of the school year as a measure against the spread of COVID-19.
On the recommendation of State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister, the board voted to suspend in-person instruction and extracurricular activities at Oklahoma public schools for the rest of the spring semester, and move to distance learning starting on or shortly after April 6.
The board had already closed public school buildings until April 6, placing students on an extended break during which instruction is not required. As of the latest update on Tuesday morning, there are 106 positive cases of COVID-19, 25 hospitalizations and 3 deaths in Oklahoma.
Hofmeister said Wednesday that the State Department of Education has been working on creating a distance learning framework to guide districts, and will have distance learning guidelines and resources on its site by the end of the week. Distance learning plans will look different by district, but districts will have to have their plans approved by the State Department of Education, according to Hofmeister.
The state is seeking federal assistance to free up funds that would support distance learning, and is working with Oklahoma providers to bolster districts’ digital connectivity, the state superintendent said.
Norman Public Schools superintendent Nick Migliorino has notified district parents through multiple updates in the last week that the district is preparing a distance learning plan that should be in place by April 6 or soon after. According to Migliorino, the district anticipates using distance learning “for enrichment only,” and will not let student grades be negatively impacted by the new plan.
"Rest assured that we will also do everything in our power to ensure students continue to learn,” Migliorino wrote in a Tuesday newsletter. "I also know that it seems overwhelming to consider how to juggle distance learning for your children with your own commitments in and out of the home. I assure you that we are taking all of this into consideration and while I can’t promise that it will be easy, I do know that we can achieve more than we ever imagined.”
State board members said Wednesday that while they have received questions about why the board made this decision right now, they are trying to give districts adequate time to plan for distance learning and provide for all of their students.
The board also emphasized that "distance learning" does not mean that all learning services will only be available online. The state is working to partner with local public broadcasting to provide educational programming, Hofmeister said.
“Oklahoma has incredible educators — strong, and dedicated and smart,” Hofmeister said. “…Our education communities are tough, they’re resilient, and they’re committed. They know, as we all do, that we are all in this together. If this pandemic underscores anything, it’s that we must help one another, we must care for one another."
The state has already received federal waivers that will allow schools to keep feeding students for free during closures. Oklahoma has also received a waiver to suspend both state assessments of public school students and the annual state schools report card.
NPS is serving curbside pickup meals at each of its schools every weekday beginning today. Food pickups are available to children 18 or younger from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. daily; no proof of income or need will be necessary to obtain the meals.
Hofmeister also said Wednesday that the State Department of Education is in conversations with the Department of Human Services, and is working to encourage districts to keep an eye on students who may not have safe or reliable home environments. The state's distance learning framework includes mental health considerations and guidelines, Hofmeister said.
The state board also recommended Wednesday that school districts and local boards be flexible with graduation requirements and credits for the class of 2020.
Migliorino emphasized during an NPS school board meeting last week that the district's board has the power to modify graduation credit requirements if necessary at the end of the year. The NPS superintendent also said in Tuesday's newsletter that he is committed to giving the district's seniors in-person graduation ceremonies at some point.
This story is developing and will be updated as more information is available on a local level.
Follow me @emma_ckeith