August 13, 2021
Dear BPS Families,
Our teachers and staff have been working hard this week in anticipation of the start of the 2021-2022 school year. We are anxious to welcome our first cohort of students (last names A-K) Monday morning, followed by students with last names L-Z on Wednesday. All students will report for the first full day together next Friday, August 20.
Regrettably, COVID case numbers in our county and state continue to increase. Our primary zip code (74008) has been well into the RED category (more than 50 cases/100K) for two consecutive weeks. For context, the number of weekly active COVID cases on August 11th last year was 1,156. This number actually decreased to 865 by the start of school on August 18, 2020. This year, the current number is over twice as high (2,542) and increasing at a steep rate. This number represents the highest level of cases we have seen since early February.
The Bixby School Board met last night to discuss this data and review the district’s current protocols for managing COVID as we reopen schools next week. As we have affirmed throughout the pandemic, our primary goals are: (1) to protect the health and safety of our students and employees, and (2) to preserve in-person instruction for as long as possible. The first goal obviously supports the second in that our ability to keep our schools open is directly linked to our capacity to adequately staff our classrooms and support services (i.e bus drivers and child nutrition workers).
We will be monitoring our case numbers very closely over the first few weeks of school. Future decisions will be made to support the goals mentioned above. For now, please take a minute to review the following guidelines and discuss with your children as appropriate.
Masks - Senate Bill 658, which became law on July 1, forbids school districts from implementing mask mandates. At the same time, state and local health agencies, the CDC, and the Academy of American Pediatrics all recommend that students wear masks when in school. Accordingly, BPS will recommend, but not require masks for students, employees, and visitors on school property. We also recognize the strong opinions and emotions attached to the issue of masking and encourage everyone to act with grace and respect when encountering others who may have a different perspective. There is simply no room for incivility in our school community. BPS will not tolerate any harassment based on an individual’s choice whether or not to wear a mask.
Vaccinations - State and local health departments and the CDC recommend COVID-19 vaccines for those eligible, including children ages 12 and above. However, the district will not be asking any student, employee, or parent to provide proof of vaccination prior to entering one of our facilities.
COVID notifications- To effectively manage the spread of COVID in our schools, it is essential that BPS staff and parents report all positive cases as quickly as possible. Please continue to screen your children prior to sending them to school. Key symptoms of COVID continue to be elevated temperature, cough, shortness of breath, and loss of taste and smell. Individuals who are positive will be required to isolate in accordance with CDC guidelines.
Contact tracing and quarantine - When notified of a positive case, the district will conduct contact tracing and notify students and employees who possibly have been exposed. At this time, quarantines will not be issued. Rather, exposed individuals should closely monitor symptoms and seek medical advice or COVID testing if they become symptomatic. Because CDC guidance does not require quarantines for vaccinated individuals, the district would be in conflict with SB658 by having to request vaccination status prior to issuing quarantines. Additionally, our own quarantine data from last year reveals that fewer than one percent of students who were sent home on a quarantine ever reported becoming positive as a result of an exposure to a COVID-positive individual at school. As a result, we are trying to balance the safety benefits of issuing quarantines against the academic, social, and emotional needs of students along with the negative impact on families who need to rearrange schedules to care for a child at home. This guidance could change if we find that transmission rates of the delta variant are significantly higher than what we experienced last year.
Handwashing and cleaning - Hand sanitizer and hand-washing stations will be available at all sites; disinfectant cleaner and wipes will be placed in classrooms; and custodians will continue the use of electrostatic sprayers in our buildings. Students will be reminded to wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds prior to eating, and especially after sneezing, coughing, and blowing their nose.
Parents and visitors - As we shared last week, the current restrictions on non-BPS employees in buildings are designed to minimize potential exposure of staff to protect our chances for a safe and sustained reopening of school. Parents and visitors are allowed in building lobbies or main offices for scheduled appointments or to pick up and drop off children. The district will return to normal visitation procedures once our COVID alert level returns to YELLOW for two consecutive weeks.
Finally, the district will continue to post weekly updates, including data related to positive COVID-19 cases among students and staff every Friday on the BPS website, bixbyps.org.
Our district staff and I look forward to welcoming your children back to school next week and working with you to make 2021-2022 a positive and productive school year.