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Mid-Del revises coronavirus plan

School district keeps four-day schedule; sets new parameters for use of remote learning

By Jeff Harrison
Midwest City Beacon

Mid-Del Schools has modified its coronavirus plan to add internal benchmarks for when students would stop attending in-person classes four days a week.
The school board approved changes to the district’s Return to Learn Plan at a Nov. 17 special meeting.

Changes to the plan will allow district officials make determinations on instruction based on coronavirus levels within the school district as well as county and state level data. The district level benchmarks consider positivity rates within school sites as well as availability of staff and transportation.

Jason Perez, deputy superintendent, and school board member Julian “Strippy” Biggers (Left) discuss changes to Mid-Del Schools’ Return to Learn Plan. (PHOTO BY JEFF HARRISON )

The board approved the following recommendations:
• If 5% of students and staff are positive for COVID-19. The school would move to remote learning for 14 calendar days.
• Unable to provide instructional services due to COVID: Remote learning would be implemented at the classroom, grade level, department, or school site. It would consider the number of teacher quarantines and the availability of substitute teachers.
• Unable to provide bus service due to COVID: The entire district would move to remote learning.
• Oklahoma County goes red on OSDH Map: Mid-Del will move to entirely remote learning if Oklahoma County reaches the red or high risk according to the Oklahoma State Department of Health’s Oklahoma COVID-19 Alert System. The level would be triggered if the county has more than 14.29 new daily cases per 100,000 population, and more than 40% of acute case hospital beds are being used for COVID-19 patients.

Jason Perez, deputy superintendent, filled in for superintendent Rick Cobb who was quarantined due to a possible exposure to the virus. He said the district would not need to hit all four criteria to trigger a shift to remote learning.

“If one of these scenarios would move to remote learning at the classroom, school or district level, depending on the situation,” Perez. “By considering all these options, we’re recognizing what’s taking place within our schools while also considering the COVID cases at the county and state level.”

School officials asked the board to modify the plan to consider coronavirus levels within the district as well, as county data that is readily available to the public.

“Relying solely on a metric that represents the entire county really undercuts the reality of the COVID spread in our district,” Perez said. “That’s not to say we should ignore county or state COVID numbers, but if our staff, students and families are putting forth the effort to reduce exposure then we should acknowledge those efforts when deciding whether or not to move to remote learning.”

The previous plan called for the district to move to entirely remote learning if the number of available hospital beds in Oklahoma County drops below 5%, which was also the threshold for the red (high risk) category according the Oklahoma State Department of Health. The OSDH later modified its color-coded map and did not provide the percentage of available hospital beds in its weekly report.

“We came to terms with the fact that was not a reliable metric for determining if we’re using four-day week or remote learning,” Perez said.

Returning to four-day in-person classes is a necessary and safe option for students and staff, Perez said.

“Mid-Del is not ignoring the COVID-19 pandemic, but it cannot be our only focus,” Perez said. “It would be nothing short of professional misconduct that the lack of in-person instruction can have a serious and long-term impact on our students. We have a moral obligation to serve our students and we need to acknowledge that the COVID statistics represented in our state do not necessarily mirror what we’re seeing in our schools.”

Perez said the district’s safety protocols and procedures have helped limit the spread of virus in the schools. For the week of Nov. 9-13, the district, which has more than 12,000 students and staff, reported 27 positive cases and 232 close contacts/quarantines. Perez said 11.1% of the positive cases were traced back to exposure at school.

Dr. Silvya Kirk, board member, expressed concern about the four-day in-person instruction and asked if the district officials consider returning to the A/B schedule.
Perez said the A/B schedule was effective in providing social distancing but failed to offer necessary instruction for students. He said the schools are also working to reduce close contacts among students throughout the school day including during passing between classes.

“The data clearly shows that the A/B schedule is not working for our students,” Perez said.

Jimmie Nolen, board member, asked about the amount of notice provided to parents when the district moves from in-person to remote learning.

“Is the decision going to be made Friday morning if we don’t have enough bus drivers?” Nolen asked.

Perez said some decisions could be made with short notice, similar to a snow day.

The board approved changes to the plan by a 3-1 vote. Kirk cast the lone no vote and Leroy Porter was absent. Julian “Strippy” Biggers, Nolen and Nathan McGuire voted for the changes.
Mid-Del Schools started the school year with an alternating A/B schedule. Half of the students attended classes in-person Monday and Tuesday, and the other half on Thursday and Friday with alternating Wednesdays. The district later made Wednesday a remote learning day to allow staff more time to work on lesson plans.

The district plan was tied to the OSDH color-coded map. Schools would return to in-person instruction if Oklahoma County was in the green or yellow levels and had fewer than 14.29 cases per 100,000 people.

On Oct. 29, the school board agreed to untie the Return to Learn Plan from the OSDH’s color-coded map and return to in-person instruction four days a week. The district would return to all-remote learning if the available hospital beds in the county dropped below 5%. The changes were effective Nov. 9.

Cobb justified returning to in-person instruction due to high failure rates in current classes, low and declining attendance, chronic absenteeism, and mental health of students.

But after one week, the district temporarily returned to remote learning because of a large spike in positive cases in Oklahoma County. The number of positive cases increased by 36.89% for the week of Nov. 9-13. On Nov. 13, Cobb announced the district would implement remote learning for Nov. 16-20.

School was out this week for Thanksgiving break. Classes are expected to resume with a four-day schedule next week.

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