OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The Oklahoma State Board of Education approved a COVID-19 response plan on Thursday for actions local districts should take to slow the spread of coronavirus, but narrowly voted to make the plan optional instead of mandatory.
Developed in conjunction with the Oklahoma State Department of Health, the five-level plan outlines steps districts should take based on the number of confirmed positive coronavirus cases per capita in a county where the district is located.
State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister, who chairs the board, said she was disappointed in its decision to make the plan optional. Board members Carlisha Bradley and Kurt Bollenbach joined Hofmeister in voting to make the plan a requirement, but Brian Bobek, William Flanagan, Estela Hernandez and Jennifer Monies voted to make the plan optional for districts.
“Today’s vote is very disappointing and one that likely will stoke more concerns for teachers, parents and families with a new school year only weeks away," Hofmeister said. “I believe it entirely appropriate that the State Board establish a floor of recommended and required protocols to ensure a safer environment for all in the school community — teachers, staff and students."
Under the plan, if there were fewer than 1.43 cases per 100,000 residents, for example, wearing face coverings would only be a recommendation and schools would be expected to offer in-person instruction. Guidelines would become stricter as the number of cases rose. At the highest level, more than 50 cases per 100,000 residents, schools would be required to use distance learning and the use of buildings for extracurricular activities would be prohibited.
Hernandez said she believed too strongly in local control to require districts to follow the safety protocols.
“It's about trusting our local boards," she said. “I refuse to make a decision top down."
LATEST CORONAVIRUS NUMBERS
The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Oklahoma jumped by 737 on Thursday, bringing to 28,802 the total number of confirmed positive cases, according to the Oklahoma State Department of Health. The actual number of positive cases is likely much higher since many people haven’t been tested and some who get the disease don’t show symptoms.
The state also reported three additional deaths, bringing the statewide death toll to 477, health officials reported.
HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS
Also Thursday, the Oklahoma Secondary Schools Activities Association said fall sports, including football, are expected to start on time despite the virus.
OSSAA executive director David Jackson said the organization will be prepared to make contingency plans if the virus spikes, including shortening seasons or moving all sports to the spring.
For most people, the COVID-19 virus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up within weeks. But for others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, the virus can cause severe illness, including pneumonia, and be fatal.
COLLEGES AND UNIVERSITIES
Oklahoma State University announced Thursday that all incoming students who plan to live on campus will be required to complete a COVID-19 test. OSU also said they would require students and staff to wear masks in public and that they've set aside 300 bed spaces to be available if students need to quarantine.
And at the University of Oklahoma, officials announced they are moving to a “test-optional" admissions process for the spring and fall semesters next year. OU said in a press release they will focus on a “holistic admissions processs" that evaluates students on academic rigor and performance, activities and engagement, personal essay and letters of recommendation.