Local school year not impacted by conronavirus concerns

Michael Smith

As sporting events across Oklahoma were canceled on Thursday due to fears of the coronavirus, schools and universities were preparing for spring break. While no plans have been made by local schools or colleges to delay the return from spring break, administrators are keeping an eye on developments surrounding the global pandemic.

Lone Grove Public Schools have not canceled any scheduled events, but the administration is keeping daily communication with state education officials to monitor the situation. “We have battled a very active flu season this year and the best response to any infectious virus is prevention,” said Superintendent Meri Jayne Miller in a statement.

At Springer Public Schools, students were already scheduled to be out of class on Friday. Superintendent Cynthia Hunter said there are currently no plans to postpone events or to cancel school after spring break, but added that school officials will be monitoring the situation during the break.

“[W]ith students out next week for Spring Break, we can focus on disinfecting and cleaning the district,” she said in a Thursday email. “We will reschedule or cancel any event deemed necessary to ensure the safety of our students and staff,” Hunter said.

Members of the Oklahoma State Department of Education are participating in weekly coronavirus updates with state health officials, and school administrators have said there is daily communication between state and local school officials.

Higher education is also monitoring developments as the number of COVID-19 patients rise across the country. University Center of Southern Oklahoma President Peggy Maher said next week’s spring break will give staff an opportunity to thoroughly clean the campus and weigh any future actions.

Maher must consider decisions made by school administrators for the three institutions that hold classes at UCSO. Langston University, Murray State College, and Southeastern Oklahoma State University all offer courses at the Ardmore campus. As of Thursday afternoon, students were still expected to return to class at UCSO beginning March 23.

“[W]e will practice preventative disinfection of our facility and follow the policy decisions of our partner institutions in this matter,” Maher said. “Most are indicating that classes will resume after spring break but, as the situation is still evolving rapidly, this decision could change.”

For the MSC campus in Tishomingo, staff has already increased the frequency of disinfection on campus. Staff reportedly disinfects high-touch areas like door handles and handrails twice per day and new supplies of hand sanitizer have been distributed throughout campus.

Contingency planning is also underway at MSC to select alternative delivery methods of coursework and campus operations should the need arise. “[F]aculty and others with essential roles on campus have been asked to be prepared for any and all changes in daily operations that may arise,” said MSC President Joy McDaniel.

The University of Oklahoma campus in Norman will temporarily transition in-person classes to online environments after spring break. According to a Thursday morning statement from interim president Joseph Harroz Jr., the temporary move to online classes will not affect the Tulsa campus nor the Health Sciences Center in Oklahoma City.

The statement says there are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 at OU, but the decision to transition Norman campus classes online was made out of precaution. “The unambiguous guidance from our public health experts is that this important measure is necessary to protect the health of our community,” Harroz said.

Along with in-person classes being affected, OU-related events through April 5 have been suspended. Scheduled sporting events have not been cancelled but spectator restrictions may be enacted. Harroz said students should take all instructional materials, including textbooks and devices, with them over spring break to prepare for distance learning.