The numbers on the map aren’t good. Neither are the colors which show counties that were well on the way to being COVID-free in late May are anything but as of late July.
And that’s a concern with the start of the 2021-22 school year just around the corner.
All four area school districts resume instruction next week – Wayne on August 11, Purcell and Lexington on August 12 and Washington on August 13.
Superintendents and school boards are left to make some tough judgment calls.
Dr. Sheli McAdoo, Purcell superintendent, said the plan is to “start school as normal as possible.”
“The vast majority of our staff have completed vaccination which makes this year better from that standpoint,” she continued. “We will continue to deploy our mitigation strategies of cleaning, hand washing protocols, social distancing and encouraging masks in areas where this is not possible.”
McAdoo noted state law doesn’t allow for mandating masks unless there is an emergency order from Gov. Kevin Stitt – something she doesn’t anticipate.
“So we will make masks available for anyone that wishes to utilize them,” she said. “We will provide a virtual learning option as we did last year. Our goal will be to remain in school with no to little interruptions of in-person learning.”
For their part, parents, students, teachers and staff are all ready to get back to school.
“Fall activities have begun to practice and we are encouraging good mitigation techniques for everyone,” she said. “Several of our students aged 12 and up have received the COVID vaccine which allows them to not have to quarantine if they are identified as a close contact.”
The district is asking staff to protect students and themselves by following the mitigation protocols. Masking is encouraged in cases where social distancing isn’t possible. McAdoo said this applies “whether they are vaccinated or not.”
McAdoo expressed gratitude to the McClain County Health Department for serving as an “easy option for student vaccinations for back-to-school, as well as COVID vaccines if requested.”
Navigating the first 1-1/2 years of the pandemic took tons of planning and cooperation from countless people.
The list includes CDC, State Department of Health, State Department of Education, city and county emergency management, the Oklahoma State School Board Association and Cooperative Council of School Administrators.
McAdoo also looks to the district’s board of education, administrators, teachers, students, parents and community members.
“Their input is critical and has been very helpful in navigating the pandemic,” she said. “There is no doubt that it has been a team approach.”
While there are some residuals of COVID from last year and dealing with the Delta variant this year, McAdoo believes the district is “better prepared” with vaccinations and “has protocols that we know are effective if used correctly.”
“We are looking forward to the new school year and welcoming our students back,” she said.
Wayne superintendent Toby Ringwald anticipates “business as usual” when classes resume.
“We will be recommending but not requiring masks or quarantine,” he said. “We will, however, encourage parents to keep their students at home if they are not feeling well.”
Virtual learning will be offered again, but Ringwald expects most instruction will be in-person.
“Obviously, all of this is subject to change if any mandates come down from the state health department,” he continued. “We will address situations as they come and we will follow all mandates that are passed down to us from a state level.
“Our community is ready to have normal school again, and that is what we plan to do this year. The overwhelming response I received last year was to keep our doors open, and we did not have to shut school down due to COVID at any time.”
Superintendent Chad Hall said Lexington Public Schools will continue to weigh local conditions and how they might affect school operations.
“Our priority will always be on safety balanced with personal responsibility to the extent possible,” he said, adding recommendations regarding personal protective measures are “always echoed as best practices.”