Oklahoma schools closed until April to slow virus spread

Michael Smith
Students eat lunch at Lincoln Elementary School in September 2019. Schools across Oklahoma will be closed until at least April 6, but schools that take part in summer meal programs will be allowed to prepare “grab and go” meals to students during the closure.

The state board of education on Monday voted unanimously to close public schools until at least April 6. Before the vote, education officials received notice that a limited number of schools will be able to provide meals to students during the closure. The decision to close schools came as Oklahoma health officials confirmed 10 cases of COVID-19 in the state as of Monday.

“It is critical that we do everything in our power to protect the health of our kids, their families, educators and all vulnerable populations,” said Oklahoma State Department of Education Superintendent Joy Hofmeister in a statement. “The OSDE has been working around the clock, and will continue to do so, to ease the burden of schools during this challenging time.”

A department spokesperson said about 75 members of Hofmeister’s superintendents’ advisory council spoke with Gov. Kevin Stitt during a Monday conference call to discuss the closure. All district superintendents and some principals have been invited to take part in another phone call with state officials scheduled for 2 p.m. today.

Similar communications between state officials and local education officials will continue throughout spring break as administrators and officials monitor developments of the global coronavirus pandemic.

The state school board met during a special meeting on Monday and only voted on the temporary closing. With students across the state already scheduled to be out of class for spring break this week, students will be out of the classroom for at least three weeks.

On Saturday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture approved waivers that allow some Oklahoma schools to provide “grab and go” meals during the school closure. Schools normally required to serve meals on site will now be allowed to provide delivery, but the waivers are only for schools that participate in two specific summer meal programs.

The state education department's Child Nutrition Program has applied for other waivers so more schools can feed students during an extended closure of cafeterias.

Secondary schools have already felt the impact of coronavirus fears. The governing body for high school sports announced last week that basketball tournaments would be canceled, which put a halt on the Ardmore Lady Tigers’ playoff run.

On Monday, Plainview High School announced its prom has been rescheduled for May 16.

Southeastern Oklahoma State University announced last week that in-person classes would begin a transition to online learning after spring break. That change will affect Southeastern students enrolled at the University Center of Southern Oklahoma campus in Ardmore.

Southeastern officials are expected to make an announcement on April 3 regarding the rest of the semester.

UCSO President Peggy Maher on Friday said a decision to cancel in-person classes at Langston University will not affect nursing students at UCSO.

Murray State College had not announced any cancellations as of Monday afternoon. Phone calls to Ardmore daycare centers on Monday afternoon suggest virus concerns have not impacted childcare services.