July 27, 2021

The Difference a Year Makes

Happy Tuesday, dear readers. This newsletter has been quiet while I took a vacation. But today we’re back at it with a flashback to back-to-school 2020, when many schools were delaying the first day of school or starting the year in distance learning to mitigate the spread of coronavirus.

There was a scattershot approach to mask requirements. And scores of students across the state chose virtual programs either at a charter school or through their local school district.

In July 2020, I wrote a story about the debate over whether masks should be required in schools. At that time, the COVID-19 risk level map from the state Health Department looked like this.

Green reflects counties with fewer than 1.43 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents and is considered “normal”. Yellow is defined as “low-risk” for 1.43 to 14.29 cases. And orange counties have a “moderate risk” with more than 14.29 cases per 100,000 residents.

Today, the risk in many areas is even higher due to a recent surge in positive cases. Compare to the most recent map released on July 20.

This year schools are forging ahead with bringing back as many students in person as possible, after considering the past year’s negative effects on students’ mental health and academics. Leaders at some smaller districts told me they won’t offer a virtual program, though most of the larger districts will keep it as an option.

And the scattershot approach to masks is gone, due to new legislation that took effect July 1 requiring a state of emergency before a school board can implement a mask mandate (despite recent advice from the American Academy of Pediatrics that all kids over the age of 2 wear a mask). Gov. Stitt on Friday said he won’t implement another state of emergency, ruling out the possibility of mask requirements, according to The Oklahoman.

With mask mandates off the table, schools are encouraging or strongly recommending face coverings and hoping improved air quality, cleaning and other measures will be enough to keep COVID at bay.

What are your thoughts about back-to-school? As always, email and DMs open. Have a great week.

— Jennifer Palmer

What I’m Reading

  • Can teachers require masks in classrooms? [KGOU]
  • Legislative watchdog office will study education funding and teacher pay. [The Oklahoman]
  • Delta variant throwing a wrench in Tulsa area districts’ back-to-school plans. [KJRH]
  • State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister urges adults to get vaccinated, for students’ sake. [Tulsa World]
  • How schools can prepare to help kids who lost a parent to COVID-19. [Education Week]

Tweet Watch

Help Us Make a Difference

During times of crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic, Oklahoma needs high-quality investigative journalism. That is our mission at Oklahoma Watch. We produce stories that hold government and public officials accountable and that make transparent what some prefer to keep secret. We depend on financial support from readers like you to sustain our coverage. Help us make a difference.

Thank you to our principal organizational sponsors and funders
for their generous support. 


Support our publication

Every day we strive to produce journalism that matters — stories that strengthen accountability and transparency, provide value and resonate with readers like you.

This work is essential to a better-informed community and a healthy democracy. But it isn’t possible without your support.