2020-21 School Year Information
July 20, 2020
Dear Owasso Parents and Owasso Staff,
Since that distribution, I have had the opportunity to hear from parents, teachers, staff and high school students. That feedback has been tremendously helpful. No two parents, no two staff members, and no two students have the exact life experience, so hearing from an array of people has been valuable.
There are several tremendous challenges that we are all facing right now.
First, this is a time of worry, disruption, and situations of uncertainty. Those feelings may be about school, but they are also feelings about life in general. We all are seeking answers with details to provide security. The ever-changing situation does not lend itself to those types of predictable, concrete answers right now.
Second, we have not been in school since March 13th. Together, we experienced an abrupt, mandatory statewide school closure after spring break. While some parents and staff thought the stoppage was ridiculous and others thought it was wise, it at least was a known quantity. School was shut down. School activities were stopped. We quietly rode into the end of the year.
In June, the state began to reopen its activities and people were able to make the decisions that worked best for them. Families and our staff members have been making decisions for themselves in response to COVID-19 throughout the summer. Some have traveled. Some have not. Some have used masks. Some have not. Some believe we can return to school. Some do not.
Now, we are facing a return to learn for the 2020-21 school year. We have 70+ pages of information from a State Department of Education staff that has been working tirelessly since March to provide schools with guidance. We have health department leaders who have been available to our district 24/7 to provide the best guidance for each of our questions.
As we approach the first day of school, the questions continue. How do we open safely? What does ‘safe’ look like? What do we do to protect the health of teachers and staff? What can we do to help children learn in this environment and minimize distractions from the health precautions we use?
Even since we crafted the information for parents, there has been an increase in the number of cases of COVID. Our largest sister city has made masks mandatory for all people over the age of 18. You, our staff and parents, see these conditions.
Last Thursday, area school leaders met with the leaders within the Tulsa County Health Department that are trying to eliminate COVID-19. We requested these health leaders meet with us as all area schools are struggling with the same items. We asked the hard questions. They provided guidance. Everyone on the call – health department and educational leaders – acknowledged that some guidelines are more feasible than others to implement within a school setting.
What is the culture as we try to start school? We’ve all heard the discussions and debates on this issue every day – on the news, on social media, and in person. We are seeing and hearing people speak cruelly to each other – saying things that on a normal day simply wouldn’t be said. I live every day of my life choosing to assume the best of those with whom I interact – even when hateful speech and comments are taking place. I choose to assume it is fear and worry talking and that the majority of people really don’t want to conduct themselves in anger and bitterness.
Here is our predicament. We absolutely see the education of our children as essential. Owasso values the education of its children and always has. The challenge right now is that we are experiencing a pandemic rooted in COVID-19 and we are all desperately seeking a way to build a bridge between where we are and “normal” so our children can attend school. The reality is that we are not in a situation that is normal and, therefore, starting school in a normal way will be difficult if it can even occur at all.
Since the back to school information was shared, we have seen our community debate masks or no masks. As I have read the words written to me by parents, staff, and students there is certainly a focus on masks. However, the undercurrent is deeper. It is a plea for families, teachers, staff and students to be safe. That plea is valid as there is nothing more significant in the world than the safety of the people in our community. I am well aware that some have indicated that by using the words “masks are encouraged” rather than “masks are required” that it was translated as that I, along with the staff in our district and members of our School Board, don’t care about the safety of our children and educators. That is inaccurate, but time is better spent working towards a solution than quibbling over semantics.
Parents, we understand you have to know what will occur for the start of school in order to plan for your families. We know school brings a frame to your families’ lives that allows you to work or conduct your business while school is in session. We are diligently trying to use the most current information and recommendations to make the best decisions. In an ordinary year, you know the details of the next school year when you say goodbye to teachers in May. This is not an ordinary year. How I wish it was. With each email I read this past week, I heard the heartbeat of parents who desperately want to return their children to the great schools of Owasso, but they want reassurance that returning to the physical school buildings can be done safely.
Today (Monday, July 20th), our district was scheduled to share with parents the forms for on-line learning. Owasso Public Schools will absolutely have an online (virtual) learning option for students for the 2020-21 school year. We will delay publishing those forms on our website until the end of this week so a few items can occur.
We are continuing to evaluate and seek guidance from the Tulsa County Health Department and the Oklahoma State Department of Education regarding aspects of our plans to return to school buildings.
This morning, I met with our principals. This is the first day that our principals return to work for the 2020-21 school year. We spent the morning discussing the details and challenges related to returning to a physical learning environment. We had frank conversations and examined the current reality of COVID-19 as it relates to our schools. I trust their wisdom and their honesty.
This afternoon, district leaders and I will meet with our teachers’ association leadership. These teachers meet regularly throughout the school year with our district leaders. I know they will speak from their hearts as we seek methods to educate our students and keep them safe in a way that is also safe and healthy for teachers. We will seek their valuable perspective on the same topics that will be discussed with principals.
After discussions this week, I will be communicating with our Board of Education as to how our administration recommends proceeding. The Board members are passionate about our students’ safety, their education, and this community. They are parents and grandparents, too. I ask for your continued patience as we continue to have these challenging discussions on behalf of our students and staff.