Multiple county schools move to distance learning, state board of education urges mask usage

Michael D. Smith
The Plainview Public Schools campus on Thursday, Nov. 12, 2020. The district is among at least three in Carter County that have transitioned to distance learning due to COVID-19. Schools in Healdton and Ardmore have also been affected this week.

The state education board is urging school districts across the state to mandate mask usage as a growing number of schools and classrooms transition to distance learning due to COVID-19. The pandemic has impacted nearly every Carter County school district, with Ardmore, Plainview and Healdton districts most recently making the move to distance learning.

The Oklahoma State Board of Education on Thursday approved a resolution urging school districts to require students and staff members to wear face coverings while in school. The resolution cites more than 600 adolescents recently reported as among 4,500 new COVID-19 cases in a single day.

“The sharp increase in viral transmission is particularly alarming as public schools struggle to continue offering needed in-person instruction and providing critical services to children,” read the resolution.

While many schools require staff members to wear face coverings throughout the school day, few require the same from students. Thursday’s resolution from the state board of education is nonbinding and does not require schools to implement or enforce mask mandates.

“Therefore, the State Board of Education implores Oklahoma school boards and district superintendents to require students and staff to wear face masks on public school campuses and within district vehicles, and especially when in classrooms or other large gatherings,” read the resolution.

The resolution was approved on the same day Healdton High School and Healdton Middle School each started distance learning. While the moves by both schools will affect all students, some have been directly notified as part of contact tracing efforts.

“Because the District takes the safety of its students and staff very seriously and due to the high number of quarantined students/staff in the high school, we will be doing distance learning through November 20,” read a Wednesday statement from Healdton Public Schools. A statement released by the school just hours later added the middle school to distance learning.

Plainview Public Schools notified families on Wednesday that the district would be moving to distance learning until Nov. 30, after the Thanksgiving holiday, due to a high number of absences related to COVID-19. The move to distance learning for Plainview students came on the same day the Ardmore City Commission voted to approve a resolution that requires face coverings inside buildings.

Within the Ardmore City Schools district, Charles Evans Elementary School was also taking part in distance learning on Wednesday and Ardmore High School was expected to transition on Friday. Ardmore Middle School recently returned to in-person instruction this week after almost two weeks of virtual learning.

Superintendent Kim Holland said recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics have helped guide his decision not to move the entire district to distance learning in an effort to give students as much normalcy as safely possible. Despite the effort to keep students in classrooms, staffing issues have prompted most of the moves.

“So many teachers have been quarantined for one reason or another,” Holland said on Thursday.

Other schools across the county have already dealt with virtual learning due to COVID-19. In October, Wilson Public Schools and Lone Grove Public Schools temporarily moved to distance learning. In August, schools in Dickson and Springer implemented distance learning when cases of COVID-19 were identified on those campuses.