Statewide school closures likely until after summer break, some officials believe

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An empty crosswalk in front of Eugene Field Elementary School on Thursday as all Oklahoma schools remain closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. BEN FELDER/The Frontier

Oklahoma’s public schools are unlikely to reopen this school year, multiple officials with the state Department of Education have told The Frontier.

A decision by the state Board of Education has not been made and department officials acknowledge the coronavirus pandemic is evolving each day. But discussions are taking place about how to support students and families if schools remain closed until after summer break. 

“I think we are all very cognizant of the gravity of the decision and taking it very seriously,” said Jennifer Monies, a member of the state Board of Education. “But right now we are having to take it day by day. Things are happening so quickly.”

On Thursday, the state Department of Education applied for a waiver with the U.S. Department of Education to be excused from end of the year assessments, an indication the state expects the current statewide closure to continue past the April 6 restart date set by the board this week.  

“Our educators and district leaders need to shift their focus from assessments to essential services, including child nutrition and planning to continue student learning through alternative delivery methods,” State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister said in a statement. “Their priority cannot be with assessments that would be of questionable validity in the wake of a global pandemic. Assessments are very important tools, but they do not outweigh other considerations during this time of uncertainty.”

States are required to test students in English language arts, mathematics and science in third- through eighth-grade and once in high school. 

Oklahoma is also requesting to suspend the use of the Oklahoma School Report Card for the current year. 

The state has already received permission from the federal government to distribute food offsite for students who depend on the daily meals. 

At least four officials told The Frontier they expect the mandated closure to last until the start of next school year based on internal conversations taking place. The Frontier allowed the officials to speak on the condition of anonymity because a final decision has not been made by the state Board of Education and they were not authorized to speak for the department.  

Oklahoma’s Board of Education voted Monday to impose a statewide closure in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Most schools were already closed for spring break, but the board mandated schools remain closed until April 6. 

The board’s next meeting is March 25.

At least 39 states have closed schools, according to Education Week

Kansas became the first state to announce schools would remain closed for the rest of the year.

“These unprecedented circumstances threaten the safety of our students and the professionals who work with them every day and we must respond accordingly,” Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly said Tuesday

While a final decision has not been made in Oklahoma, Monies said there are already conversations about how to salvage part of the learning experience for students. 

“The state department has been very good about communicating with the board and I know we are considering all options to give us some maximum flexibility to be able to provide instruction as we can and provide students with support, even if schools remain closed,” Monies said. 

“It seems like many other states are extending beyond that two week period, but it is an ever evolving issue that we are watching very closely. We ultimately are going to make the right decision for kids and communities.”

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Ben Felder

Based in Oklahoma City, Ben Felder joined The Frontier in 2019 and covers education and politics. He previously covered education and government as an investigative reporter at The Oklahoman before becoming the newspaper’s news director. Felder can be reached at ben@readfrontier.com. Follow him on Twitter @benfelder_okc
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