Dear BPS Families,
For the past thirteen months, the COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on many of our established traditions and routines. Things we love and look forward to - birthday parties, holiday get-togethers, weddings, baby showers, church events, athletic contests, visits to grandparents, an out-of-state trip or cruise, a few hours at a good movie or lunch with friends - were all disrupted by a virus that came into our lives suddenly and indiscriminately.
Nowhere was the impact of this virus more significant than in our schools. After dealing with a truncated school year last spring, our students, staff, and families have been subjected to multiple disruptions to in-person learning throughout this year. As case numbers surged late last fall into the winter months, we asked you to make extraordinary sacrifices to help us keep everyone safe and healthy. We appreciate your flexibility as we transitioned to distance learning for three additional days last month so we could offer vaccinations to our BPS employees. On behalf of our entire district, I want to thank you for your patience and understanding during this challenging year.
The good news today is that by nearly all measures, the impact of COVID in our community and schools is waning. New case counts in Tulsa County have declined from highs of 92 new cases/100k population in mid-January to only 7.2 last Wednesday. COVID-related hospitalizations are a tenth of where they were three months ago. More importantly, our district cases have stabilized at manageable levels and there is little evidence of active transmission in our schools. Additionally, a large majority of our employees will be two weeks past their final vaccination at the end of this week and all Oklahoma citizens above 16 years of age are now eligible for vaccines.
As a result of these favorable conditions, we have made the decision to modify our masking protocols for our elementary and intermediate students. Beginning Monday, April 19, we are allowing teachers in grades PK-6 to set their own masking guidelines for their classrooms. This is based on the premise that teachers know best how to safely and effectively manage their classroom environment. Individual teachers may decide to allow students to make their own choice on wearing masks, or may allow unmasking during portions of the day and not others (such as small group lessons or carpet time), or continue to require masking at all times. It is important to recognize that a sizable number of teachers still have valid concerns about their health and that of their students. As a result, we will support whatever decision the teacher makes relative to masks in his or her classroom. I respectfully ask our parents to honor our educators’ decisions as well.
Due to an inability to effectively maintain social distance during certain times of the day, masks will continue to be mandatory while riding on BPS transportation, during arrival and dismissal, and at other times during the school day where large numbers of students are traveling between classes. Of course, students will maintain the option of wearing a mask for personal safety at all times if they choose.
The district has decided to adopt these changes for elementary grades only since COVID case counts are historically lower for younger students and documented cases have shown potential health impacts to be minimal. We will continue to monitor COVID levels and trends on a daily basis and make decisions relative to secondary grades based on future data.
I recognize this decision may not be popular with all families and staff. Many will feel the changes unnecessarily increase the risk of COVID transmission in our schools. Others may argue the guidance doesn’t go far enough. I understand and appreciate both perspectives. Accordingly, this decision seeks to put us on a safe and measured path to more normal school operations while also acknowledging the continuing health risks of COVID for many in our community, including older students for whom vaccinations are not yet available.
Relative to inside access to schools by parents, volunteers, and other adults, we have decided to not modify any of our restrictions at this time. While our levels are much lower than a few months ago, there is still active transmission in our community. We have worked very hard to bring our levels to where they are and need to see a few more weeks of positive trends before making any decision to loosen our visitation guidelines.
Thank you for your continued support of our Spartan teachers and staff.