Happy New Year! I hope you and your families enjoyed a restful and pleasant holiday break. We’re anxious to welcome your students back to the new semester and are excited for a positive 2022.
One of Hall of Fame baseball player Yogi Berra’s most memorable quotes, or so-called ‘Yogiisms’, was this quip: “It’s deja vu, all over again.” As we begin our fourth consecutive semester of school with the spread of COVID-19 looming in our minds, it certainly feels like Yogi was remarkably prophetic, because here we are again. And, I think I speak for all of us in saying I have grown quite weary of reliving this groundhog-day experience. As Bill Murray says in that movie: “It has been a VERY long day!”
Despite our desire for this pandemic to just go away, the reality is we will likely continue to deal with fluctuating case counts over time as this virus becomes an endemic part of our lives. The recent spread of the Omicron variant illustrates this well, as even fully vaccinated individuals are testing positive and serving as potential sources for further spread. Case counts in Tulsa county and across Oklahoma have almost doubled since we were last in school and it seems inevitable we will experience a surge in cases as we reopen to students and staff after the break.
On the positive side, vaccinations are now available for almost all of our students and employees and our county vaccination rate is nearly 70%. Omicron, while seemingly more transmissible, also does not seem to cause severe symptoms with the majority of people, particularly those who have been fully vaccinated. Moreover, even with the quick-spreading Delta variant in the fall, the district was able to maintain in-person learning for all but one day in the first semester. We have learned a lot through the previous COVID surges and have confidence we can continue to balance the health and safety of our students and staff with the important goal of keeping schools open.
That means we need to remain vigilant and make decisions that give us the best chance of accomplishing those goals. For that reason, we moved the professional development day for teachers and school administration scheduled for today to later in the semester. We want to minimize exposure of teachers between buildings and it was an unnecessary risk to bring them together for a day of training the day before opening our doors for students.
Likewise, to further reduce opportunities for spread, we will be temporarily returning to the more restrictive visitor and volunteer protocols we had in place through most of the first semester. Of course, we continue to encourage students and employees to wear masks when near others and to take advantage of vaccinations. Our leadership team is also evaluating the updated CDC guidance pertaining to isolations to determine if changes to school guidelines are warranted. We will make future decisions on these protocols after we evaluate the level of spread across our district over the first few weeks of the semester.
Until that time, we will continue to navigate this pandemic in a manner which best serves and supports our teachers, students and families. Our plans and decisions are predicated on preserving as much normalcy as possible, while helping students advance academically and keeping us all healthy and well. Yet, as I have said on multiple occasions, all of us need to be prepared for possible short-term pivots to distance learning. I assure you we will work diligently to avoid making these decisions and will only do so if staff absences reach a point where we cannot safely or effectively operate our schools.
In conclusion, I want to share a 1950’s quote from Nobel laureate and author Albert Camus that I sent to our BPS team yesterday. I found comfort in the power of his words and hope that we can all find the strength and grace, within us, to continue to persevere, support each other, and stay positive.
"In the midst of hate, I found there was, within me, an invincible love. In the midst of tears, I found there was, within me, an invincible smile. In the midst of chaos, I found there was, within me, an invincible calm. I realized through it all, that in the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer. And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there's something stronger - something better, pushing right back."