On the fifth day of the 2021-2022 school year, Oklahoma City Public School District Superintendent Dr. Sean McDaniel officially announced that the district will revise their Return to Learn Plan to require all students and staff to wear masks on district property, transportation systems and at school-sponsored events, regardless of vaccination status, going into effect on Monday, Aug. 16.
Additionally, any OKCPS employee who provides proof of vaccination by Nov. 15 will receive a $1,000 stipend, the funds for which will come from the district’s federal ARP-ESSER monies.
While Senate Bill 658 prohibits school boards from mandating the wearing of masks, McDaniel said in the district’s legal review of the law, it does not prohibit the superintendent and district administration from requiring the wearing of masks by students, staff and visitors.
In a press conference, McDaniel stated that his two goals as superintendent of the state’s largest school district are to provide a safe, healthy environment for students, staff and visitors and “keep the doors open” to provide in-person, 5-days-per-week education experience for students. He went on to say that the two measures that provide the best chance of meeting those objectives are universal mask wearing and encouraging those eligible to get vaccinated.
“As I’ve said from the beginning, the health and safety of OKCPS students and staff is always my highest priority,” said McDaniel. “Our district has already invested in a variety of safeguards in order to create layers of protection — including a focus on cleaning, ionization, self-screening, access to PPE, contact tracing, testing and social distancing to the greatest extent possible. But science tells us that this is simply not enough.”
While McDaniel said the district hoped the mitigation strategies in place when school resumed on Aug. 9 would help curb the spread of COVID, staff has already realized those alone were not working and they had not done everything they could to provide a safe environment. McDaniel reported that in the week before school started, the total number of positive COVID cases in the district was four (including students and staff). After four days of school, 88 students and 31 staff tested positive for COVID.
Masks will be required, not mandated, which allows for families to opt-out for health, religious or strong personal reasons, much like the process to opt-out of providing proof of immunizations to attend public school. Families who are eligible can fill out opt-out paperwork.
To further limit exposure, OKCPS will not allow outside visitors on any campuses during the school day until further notice. The district will offer COVID testing for students and staff beginning Aug. 16. The district plans to offer vaccination clinics as well. For more information, visit okcps.org.