August 28, 2020
Dear BPS Families,
I would like to begin by sharing how wonderful it has been to have our young Spartans return to our classrooms and school buildings over the past two weeks. Our teachers and staff have cherished the time they’ve had to meet students in-person and to develop relationships with you and your children.
From a school perspective, the cohort plan we developed last month has been a strong success. While we recognize the inconvenience this modified schedule posed for many families, the gradual re-entry of students back into school has assisted by allowing us to practice some of our new protocols (i.e. wearing of masks, washing hands, classroom sanitization, etc.), while improving our capacity for implementing the technology and learning methods associated with our distance learning program. The next four days of distance learning (Aug 31 to Sept 3) will help us work out any remaining challenges related to providing online instruction for over 6,000 students simultaneously. This will hopefully prepare teachers and students for a more seamless transition to this delivery model as needed in future months.
As I have shared before, another important feature of the in-person cohort model was the ability to gain actual experience tracking and managing positive cases of COVID-19 in our schools. After eight days of face-to-face instruction, we are pleased to say that the incidents have been minimal and have been managed with relatively little disruption to normal school operations. The enhanced physical distancing allowed by the cohorts has contributed to keeping our transmission rates low and minimized the number of students and staff requiring isolation. As a tool for you and our leaders to monitor cases in our district, we are providing a daily update of the cumulative and active COVID cases on our web page: https://www.bixbyps.org/covid-data.
Relative to COVID cases, downward trends can also be observed in the numbers for Bixby, Tulsa County, and statewide. Yet, while we have seen a steady reduction of cases since August 1, our county is still listed as moderate risk by the Oklahoma State Department of Health. With continued use of masks and other safety precautions in our community, we are hopeful these case counts will continue to decrease.
I want to be careful that my statements above are not interpreted as diminishing the continued significant impact of COVID in our state and community. We are certainly not where we would like to be. For individuals and families in vulnerable populations, this virus is extremely serious and should not be taken lightly. As a school district, we will persist with the strong enforcement of our mitigation protocols - to include the wearing of masks for all - for the foreseeable future. This also includes limiting visitors in our buildings at least for a few more weeks.
That brings me to the main point of this letter - to inform you of our decision to reopen schools for ALL students on Tuesday, September 8. This complex decision was reached after significant study of scientific and medical data and with continuous collaboration with our Board of Education, local health officials, district leadership, and site teachers and staff. Our reopening plan reflects the recommendations and safety guidance of the American Academy of Pediatrics which emphasize “the importance of having students physically present in school.”
While I suspect this decision will be applauded by many in our community, I also recognize and appreciate the perspective of others who have legitimate concerns about reopening schools during a global pandemic. However, I can assure everyone we will continue to do all we can reasonably do to preserve the health and wellness of our employees and students. This decision is NOT permanent - it can and will be adjusted at any time that our Board of Education and I believe we lack the capacity to adequately protect the health of our students and staff.
This full reopening of schools will begin in Level 2 (YELLOW) based on our District Return to Learn Guide and COVID-19 Protocols. This document was approved by the Board of Education on July 16. I would encourage everyone to access this document over the next few days and refamiliarize yourself (and your children) with the guidelines.
Even when we reopen, it is critically important that families and staff remain flexible and responsive to potential changes. The decision to reopen schools is a relatively easy one to make. Keeping them open while COVID levels remain moderately high in our state and county will be the challenge.
Let me state this as clearly as I can. Over the next few months, we WILL experience disruptions to our school calendar as a result of positive COVID cases. These disruptions may be random and isolated, such as having to quarantine a small number of asymptomatic children from one classroom based on close contact with a positive individual in that space. These disruptions could also be more significant in scale, based on active COVID transmission between larger numbers of individuals at a school or on an athletic team(s). Therefore, the frequent, unanticipated movement of some students and/or classes back and forth between in-person and distance learning is likely to occur until a widely-available COVID vaccine or effective medical therapies are developed.
As a result, we continue to ask for your help in keeping you and your children as protected as possible. Please follow current health guidelines relative to social distancing and wearing of face coverings at public events, athletic contests, at restaurants and movies, and in other commercial businesses. Continue to do daily screenings for COVID symptoms for you and your children. If your child is exhibiting symptoms, especially a fever of more than 100 degrees or the loss of taste/smell, please err on the side of caution and keep them home. Remind your children to wash their hands often and avoid touching their face and eyes. By doing these simple things together as adults, we stand a much better chance of keeping students IN our schools and COVID out of our schools.
I also want to thank you for the support, patience, and understanding you have graciously afforded me and my team over the past few months. My team of talented, dedicated district administrators have worked very hard to develop plans and processes which are focused on the needs of students, while also protecting the health of our staff and promoting a return to normalcy we are all striving for.
Finally, I want to share how proud I am of our principals, teachers, and support staff at each of our schools. As district leaders, we have asked them to accomplish things they have never done before -- like teaching a class on Google Meets, integrating instructional technology into their lessons, conducting Meet the Teacher events virtually, learning new software applications, and configuring their buildings and classrooms to enhance physical distancing and limit movement of students. In every case, they have stepped up and exceeded our expectations. Our community is fortunate to have such a caring and committed group of educators to help us navigate this unprecedented school year. Because of them, I am confident we can do just about anything!
It is a GREAT year to be a Spartan! We look forward to seeing students back in school on September 8.