Byron Schlomach, director of the 1889 Institute, issued the following statement today regarding the ongoing school closures throughout Oklahoma as a result of the Oklahoma State Board of Education’s response to the COVID-19 virus:
Way back in March, the 1889 Institute first protested school closings based on then-existing evidence that school-age children are not prone to the disease, evidence confirmed in intervening months. This evidence, combined with the failure of school districts to provide a rigorous online education and the hardship on two-earner families created by distance learning, makes it clear that closing the schools has, indeed, been a policy error of epic proportions.
To that end, 1889 Institute is calling on the Board of Education to rescind its current guidance that recommends such closures and reopen traditional brick and mortar schools immediately following the upcoming Christmas break. Not doing so is a disservice to both students and parents and will have a lasting impact on the educational achievements of an entire generation of Oklahoma students.
Background: On March 24 of this year (2020), the 1889 Institute released an official statement opposing the closing of Oklahoma’s public schools. They closed, nonetheless, as a result of a State Board of Education order. Despite claims that instruction would somehow continue online, the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year for most of Oklahoma’s public-school students was essentially lost.
For the 2020-2021 school year, the State Board (chaired by State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister) did not order schools closed, but issued guidance based on color-coded county-wide COVID-19 infection rates. The suggestion to districts (ongoing now) was to implement various forms of increased social distancing and mask protocols as county-wide infection rates met various thresholds, and then once they hit a “Red Level” (50 cases per 100,000 population, an infection rate of 0.05%), the State Board suggested school closures, with districts implementing distance learning. During the fall, Oklahoma City’s schools have been open for in-person instruction a mere week. Tulsa’s schools are closing for December. Many other districts are closing and have closed for various periods in an effort to follow State Board guidelines.
Florida’s schools are currently open and will be in Spring 2021. Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida has called the closing of schools amid COVID-19 “the ‘biggest health blunder’ in U.S. history.” Much of Europe apparently agrees, as Great Britain, Germany, France, and Italy have kept their schools open and operating, given the evidence that schools have not been significant centers of transmission of the virus.
Conclusion: Due to existing scientific evidence and other policy considerations, the 1889 Institute strongly recommends the following:
- The Oklahoma State Board of Education rescind its current guidance to school districts recommending school closures and distance learning based on county-wide infection rates, and
- The Oklahoma State Board of Education order that all traditional brick and mortar schools be opened to in-person instruction no later than the end of the immediately upcoming Christmas break, providing an online option for students/families who wish it.