After a surge in cases and Stephens County hitting the “red” level on the Oklahoma State School Board Association (OSSBA) map, schools in the area are making plans in the ever-changing battle against COVID-19.

As of Wednesday, Nov. 18, Stephens County has had a total of 1,218 confirmed COVID-19 cases, 935 recoveries and 12 deaths, leaving a total of 271 active cases in the area, according to the Oklahoma State Department of Health. The “red” level on the OSSBA map indicates there are more than 50 cases per 100,000 population. The State Health Department “calculates a seven-day average of new cases to arrive at the cases per 100,000 figure used to determine the color-coded risk level.”

The data has some districts moving to virtual learning and others modifying plans on how to handle the virus.


DPS: Virtual learning plan in place

While many schools transitioned back into virtual learning after numerous counties across the state entered “orange” and “red” levels on the OSSBA map after a surge in coronavirus-related cases, Superintendent of Duncan Public Schools Dr. Tom Deighan said there are no immediate plans for this to take place in Duncan yet.

“Understandably, this concerns staff, parents and students. At this time, however, DPS has no immediate plans to transition to district-wide virtual learning,” Deighan said in a recent email. “It is always a possibility, but we are currently still following the three-stage plan that the DPS Board of Education adopted for transitioning to virtual learning.”

The three tiers include level one virtual learning for small groups and individuals, level two virtual learning for the whole school and level three virtual learning which would take place in the event of a district-wide closure.

Under level one, Deighan said individuals, small groups and classes are able to transition to virtual learning as needed, which has happened frequently during the school year.

“So far, we have been able to manage COVID at level one,” Deighan said.

The second level, which is for a whole school, would take place if the need arises to temporarily close a school site.

“Due to the nature of COVID, like flu season, each site will be impacted differently,” Deighan said. “Under this option, we could close several DPS sites and still keep school open for the majority of students, staff and parents. So far this year, we have not had to close any single school site.”

The third level, which would take place district-wide if it happened, would only come about if too many sites were affected.

“If we ever reached a point when too many sites were impacted to keep the remaining sites open, we would transition the entire district to virtual learning,” Deighan said. “Although it is possible that we could close the entire district without first closing sites, it is unlikely, and we will work tirelessly to keep schools and all of DPS open as long as we can. So far, we have been successful.”

Deighan said quarantine cases go directly through his office, “so I have personally witnessed the vigilance of the Stephens County Health Department and our staff in minimizing, and preventing, spread of COVID in schools.

“Our schools are their top priority,” Deighan said, “and as inconvenient as quarantines have been, they have kept our staff and students safe. So far, our plan is working.”

While Stephens County remains in the “red” level, Deighan said they would review this information daily.

“Hopefully our schools will continue to be safe places from COVID, even if the whole county is ‘red,’” Deighan said. “Nevertheless, we will never do anything to jeopardize the health of our students or staff. If we must close school to protect everyone, we certainly will.”


Empire district modifies reopening plan

In Empire, COVID-19 won’t transition the whole district to virtual, but it did cause the school board to modify the reopening plan.

The decision in Empire came at the Monday, Nov. 16 Board of Education meeting.

According to the Empire district, students may choose virtual learning on Thursday or Friday of this week, or any time thereafter, and being virtual school on Monday, Nov. 30. The district says students may choose to attend virtual school and still be allowed to participate in extracurricular activities.

“Parents need to keep in mind that they will be responsible for transportation of students to practice or other extracurricular activities on campus during the school day,” states a memo from the district. 

Students wishing to go virtual will need to visit the office to pick up an application and while students may exit to virtual learning at any time, they may only re-enter traditional education at nine-weeks or semester markings.

As a whole, however, the district will move to virtual Fridays for the remaining of the semester, which includes Dec. 4, Dec. 11 and Dec. 18.

“Students will not attend school,” the district states. “Teachers will attend school. This time will be used for virtual planning and to tutor virtual students by appointment. These days will also be used by our custodial staff to sanitize and clean the facilities.”

Grab-and-go lunches can be picked up from 7:45 - 10 a.m. on virtual Fridays at the cafeteria.


Marlow transitions middle, high school

In some places, transition to virtual learning has already happened.

Marlow recently transitioned its middle and high school students to temporary virtual learning. The transition took place Monday, Nov. 16 through Friday, Nov. 20 and extends through Thanksgiving break, which is scheduled for Nov. 23-27. Students are anticipated to return Monday, Nov. 30.

“The current rate of COVID-19 transmission in our community is making it very difficult to minimize exposure and prevent further spread among our students and staff,” reads a letter from the Marlow district. “This community surge is significantly impacting our schools, in particular our high school and middle school teachers.”

Superintendent George Coffman, who penned the letter, said the district just “reached a point” where virtual learning, though temporary, is a necessity for the middle and high schools.

“I regret I have to make this decision,” Coffman said. “Ultimately, the safety and well-being of students and employees has to remain my primary focus. I appreciate your support and understanding. I hope that this reset will get us to the other side of this current COVID surge and that we will be able to finish the final weeks of this semester strong and together at school.”

There is still a free breakfast and lunch program for families. Pick up will take place 9:30-10:30 a.m. at the south elementary school each day, Nov. 16-20, during the virtual learning period. This is available to all students.

Teachers, administrators and staff who are not positive for COVID-19 nor quarantined at this time are still “expected to present at work during normal working hours."

“We will be full virtual and students are expected to continue working toward their academic goals,” Coffman said. “In most cases, students who are involved in seasonable sports and activities will be able to continue participation in practices and competitive events. Individual coaches will coordinate with and contact their students regarding additional instructions and guidelines.” 

For the middle school, call 580-658-2619. For the high school, call 580-658-2718. For the superintendent, call 580-658-2719.


Velma-Alma moves to distance learning

Other schools continue to transition into virtual learning, however.

An announcement Wednesday from Velma-Alma district officials indicates the school will transition to distance learning effective Thursday, Nov. 19.

The transition follows an increase of COVID-19 cases in the Velma-Alma school district, officials said.

“At this time school is scheduled to resume at an undetermined date,” reads a statement from the district. “A reopening date will be on our district Facebook page and website when that date is determined.”

According to the district, the shutdown will differ from the one that took place this past spring.

“All students will be transitioned over to our distance learning platform,” the district states. “The safety and well being of students and employees is our top priority. We continue to monitor the evolving health crisis caused by the coronavirus. We are adhering to guidance from the State Department of Health, State Department of Education, the CDC and Emergency Management in all decisions made. Thank you for your understanding as we take the necessary steps to protect our school community. Again, the situation is being closely monitored and we will keep you apprised of any changes.”

Students medications that are held in the school office can be picked up at each site by the parent or guardian if needed during the mandatory shutdown.

For more information, contact the high school at 580-203-3701 or the elementary and middle school at 580-203-3702.

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