By Jeff Harrison
Midwest City Beacon
Students at Mid-Del Schools will return to the classroom next week for the start of the new school year.
District leaders are considering possible safety measures for the new school year as infections from the COVID-19 delta variant rise in the metro.
“We’re still consulting with all of the state and local health officials to work on pieces that we need to have in place,” said superintendent Rick Cobb on Friday. “With CDC guidance changing and Senate Bill 658 enacted and signed by the governor we have a lot of information to get through.”
Senate Bill 658 greatly restricts mask mandates and forbids COVID vaccine “passports” in schools. Mask mandates would only be permitted in cases of a declared state of emergency. The bill was signed by Gov. Kevin Stitt and was effective July 1.
Several state Democrats are calling for a special session to repeal SB 658. Rep. Andy Fugate, whose district includes part of Mid-Del Schools, said Oklahoma should follow neighboring Arkansas on the matter.
“Arkansas’ GOP Governor, Asa Hutchinson, is calling for a special session to repeal Arkansas’ version of Senate Bill 658 to allow local decisions to protect students and teachers. That’s because COVID is exploding across Arkansas. COVID patients, both old and young, are filling Arkansas hospitals. Oklahoma is about four weeks behind Arkansas in our COVID trajectory. The time to act is now. Local officials need options. Right now the only option they have is to close school buildings and go virtual. The best instruction is in person instruction and we must work to preserve that option safely,” Fugate said in a statement.
Cobb said they are working with other metro school districts to try and create consistency in policies. That is made more challenging due to varying guidance from different county health departments.
“We don’t want to put out guidance for the year and then have it change all the time like it happened last year,” Cobb said.
Mid-Del Schools used several different measures to prevent the spread of the virus last year including mask mandates, remote learning and alternating A/B schedules. All safety measures expired in May at the end of the school year.
The school district saw enrollment sharply decline since the pandemic. The district had an enrollment of 14,003 students at the end of the 2019-20 school year. Enrollment dropped to 10,858 at the start of the 2020-21 school year. The school added nearly 400 students by the end of the school year.
Mid-Del Virtual Academy, the district’s online learning program, had 1,230 students at the end of last school year.
Cobb said the district hopes to have a formal plan for the 2021-22 school year in place this week.
“We’re still contacting our attorneys to get their interpretation of the new state law,” Cobb said.
The Oklahoma State Department of Health on Monday reported 5,597 new COVID-19 cases. The state’s seven-day average of new daily cases now tops 1,600 per day. The last time Oklahoma’s rate of daily cases was more than 1,000 were in mid-February.
About 46.1% of people living Oklahoma County are fully vaccinated and as of Aug. 1, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nationwide, about 49.7% of the population is considered fully vaccinated.
The CDC considers someone fully vaccinated two weeks after they’ve been given a single-dose shot (Johnson & Johnson) or a second shot (either Pfizer or Moderna).
CDC last week recommended that everyone in K-12 schools wear a mask indoors, including teachers, staff, students and visitors, regardless of vaccination status.