August 20, 2021
Dear BPS Families,
Even after three decades in education, there is just something very special to me about the start of a new school year. It never gets old. To be sure, the first day of school is full of emotions. Excitement, anxiety, joy, fear, happiness, and apprehension - and that’s just for the parents and teachers!
All kidding aside, we recognize that reopening schools in the middle of yet another COVID surge is unsettling for many, including our children. It adds stress and uncertainty to what is already an anxious time for everyone.
Especially now, we all want the first days of school to go well for our students. As superintendent, I want things to be perfect as we welcome students back to our classrooms. I want our buses to run on time. I want nutritious, well-prepared meals to be served in our cafeterias. I want students to be welcomed and cared for by every school adult they encounter. Ultimately, it’s important to me that every child forms a positive first impression of their teacher(s) and their school because these conditions set the foundation for strong relationships, positive mindsets, and excitement about learning that lasts throughout the year.
With that said, I believe we have had a great start to the school year. According to our current enrollment numbers, we have grown over 600 students since the end of the last school year to over 7,300 - a jump of almost 9% in just a few months. Thanks to our terrific maintenance department, our schools have never looked better - inside and out. Our teachers and support staff have worked hard over the past few weeks to prepare their classrooms for students. Our child nutrition staff cleaned and organized kitchens, ordered large quantities of food, and were well-prepared for the first days. Our bus drivers practiced their routes for days prior to the start of school to improve their timeliness and accuracy. Our administrators have equipped their teachers and staff with the training and resources to do their jobs well. Finally, our counselors, nurses, media specialists and office staff have worked diligently to be ready to serve you and your children now, and all year long.
This is not to say that everything has gone perfectly. The logistics associated with transporting, feeding, and educating over 7,000 children in a seven-hour period are extensive and complex. We have made mistakes. I sincerely regret any inconveniences or stress any of you may have experienced as a result of these challenges. What I can assure you is that we are working hard to identify and isolate these problem areas and get them corrected as quickly as we can.
As confident as I am that this is going to be a terrific year in BPS, we still have increasing case numbers of COVID-19 with which to contend. Weekly case counts in Tulsa County continue to rise (2,749 as of Aug 17), representing the highest numbers since early February. More significant is that after just the first five days of school, there have been 40 positive cases reported among our students and an additional nine employees since staff returned earlier last week.
While we are committed to doing all we can to preserve in-person instruction as long as possible, we also must prepare for the possibility we may need to pivot quickly to distance learning if case numbers become unmanageable. We are not there yet -- and I hope we never reach that point -- yet it would be irresponsible for us to not develop plans to respond. Subsequently, we are working with our site administrators and technology department to transition to distance learning if necessary. Elementary and intermediate families in need of a device for distance learning can review the information and apply here. Like last year, families should have contingency plans in the event these decisions have to be made in the future.
In the meantime, we continue to review our protocols to ensure we are doing all we can to mitigate the spread of COVID in our schools. In compliance with Senate Bill 658, which became effective July 1, 2021, the district is prohibited from implementing a mask mandate for the time being. However, as COVID case numbers increase across Oklahoma, these guidelines could be modified if the Governor issues an emergency order or other legal interventions are successful. I am not suggesting that Bixby would immediately move forward with a universal, district-wide mask mandate even if it were allowed. However, giving our Board of Education the authority to issue temporary and limited masking requirements to address COVID “hot spots” in our district might enhance our ability to keep all of our schools open.
Regrettably, the current case numbers and trends in Bixby have made it necessary for us to cancel our in-person parent orientations again this year. It is simply not sensible to open our schools to the community while COVID cases continue to surge. Our site principals and teachers will share additional information with parents about these events later this month.
We remain excited and optimistic about this school year. With your continued support, our district is well-equipped to navigate any challenges that come our way. Serving our students is our top priority and we recognize that safe, consistent, in-person instruction is best for the vast majority of children. That remains our goal and we will continue to pursue it with vigor.
We look forward to starting week two on Monday.