Oklahoma parents left behind by school closures

More than $2 billion in federal COVID rescue funds have been provided to Oklahoma school districts since 2020 to cover the costs of opening them safely amid the pandemic. But despite this lavish injection of cash, many schools are closing again amid the rise of the Omicron variant.

It’s left many parents — and students — with an unsettling sense of deja vu.

“In Edmond and Deer Creek, the families I know, the kids are stressed because the last time this happened they didn’t go back to school,” said Kandice Jeske, a mother of three in the Deer Creek area. “My second year student asks me because we were in kindergarten when we missed nine weeks of school. So the kids are very confused, very stressed and super emotional, and rightly so.

When Margaret Coates, Acting Superintendent of Owasso Public Schools, announced that one of the schools in that district was moving to remote learning and that others may follow, she wrote, “I understand that a Switching to remote learning may be an inconvenience to your family and I apologize for that.”

But Owasso’s mother, Jennifer Johnson, said the reality of remote learning is far worse than that of many families.

“Really, for a lot of families, it’s more than just an inconvenience,” Johnson said. “It causes parents to lose wages because they cannot go to work. This disrupts children’s schedules, which, with many children who may have special needs or special requirements, disrupts their schedule and this can disrupt family dynamics. Really, calling it a “con” is almost a slap in the face for parents, because it’s so much more than that. »

“To call it an ‘inconvenience’ is almost a slap in the face for parents, because it’s so much more than that.” —Jennifer Johnson, mother of Owasso

In recent days, several schools across the state have announced they are moving to online learning, which has proven to be inferior to in-person instruction and is a major contributor to learning loss across the board. state since 2020, or that they were closed for several days.

Oklahoma City Superintendent Sean McDaniel recently announced that all schools in the district are moving to online learning through Jan. 18 due to high COVID numbers. McDaniel said the change will deprive students of most interactions with teachers, writing that under the district’s online system, students simply log on “and complete classes and assignments on their own.” Parents of elementary school students only had a 40-minute window, from 8:20 a.m. to 9 a.m., to log on each day and interact with a child’s teacher “to discuss expectations for the day and so that the teacher can answer all your questions. have.”

The Oklahoma City District required all staff to wear masks and even fired six teachers for its mask policy. Since the district fired non-compliant teachers, schools’ COVID cases have skyrocketed.

Although in-person instruction is not provided, Oklahoma City continues to allow in-person athletics.

“Activities and athletics will continue for OKCPS students during asynchronous learning, while following existing COVID protocols,” McDaniel wrote.

Mid-Del School District Superintendent Rick Cobb recently announced that his district is suspending classes from Jan. 13-17, which will effectively be treated as snow days. Like in Oklahoma City, Cobb wrote that sporting events would continue if possible, even if Mid-Del cancels classes due to COVID.

“Where possible, we will continue student activities,” Cobb wrote, though he admitted it “may seem counter-intuitive to continue training and competing while school is closed. “.

Polls show growing support for expanding school choice

Extended COVID closures at many schools in the 2020-2021 school year had already fueled a significant increase in public support for expanding school choice policies both in Oklahoma and across the country. countries, even before the Omicron variant.

A nationwide survey of 2,715 parents of school-aged children, conducted Jan. 3-6 by National School Choice Week (NSCW), a nonprofit public outreach effort, found that nearly 14% of American parents are currently considering finding new or different schools for their children in part due to frustration with COVID-related disruptions. In addition, 38% of parents said that in the past year they had chosen a new school for at least one child or had considered doing so. A total of 51.7% of parents have considered or are considering new schools for their children. Among the 48.3% of American parents who are not considering new schools, or have not done so in the past year, 18% indicated that they are likely to begin the process of finding a new school. new schools for their children before the 2022-2023 school year.

A poll of 500 likely Oklahoma voters, conducted by WPA Intelligence on behalf of the Oklahoma Public Affairs Council from October 31 to November 3, 2021, found that 55% of voters said public schools in Oklahoma had gotten worse. The poll found that 74% of likely voters favor using taxpayer dollars earmarked for their child’s education to send their child to public or private school which they believe will best meets their needs, with 53% saying they strongly support this proposal.

There is some evidence that many parents in Oklahoma have already started to move away from traditional public schools. Anecdotal reports indicate that most private schools in the state are nearly full and public school enrollment has declined.

In the 2019-20 school year, the first to be affected by COVID, total public school enrollment was 703,650. The following school year, it fell to 694,113, after being on a steady growth trajectory since at least the 2008-2009 school year. Enrollments have recovered slightly to 698,696 this year, but remain below pre-COVID standards.

Jeske and Johnson are among the families who have pursued the school choice options currently available in Oklahoma. After concluding that Deer Creek’s COVID policies were hurting her children’s education, Jeske used the open transfer process to enroll her children in another district. Johnson chose to homeschool.

No family regrets their decision.

“I was so grateful that we were homeschooling because we saw all of these schools closing one by one,” Johnson said. “We have seen children falling behind. Children are struggling with their mental health. Children struggle with their grades, with their academic progress. But my children have had consistency. We were able to stick to a schedule and I feel like my kids are thriving.

How have schools used COVID rescue funds?

Like many families who have become frustrated with local school policies, Jeske and Johnson are active in Parent Voice Oklahoma, a coalition that seeks to elevate the role of parents in public policy debates. Amid the latest round of COVID shutdowns, many parents are asking what schools did with the $2 billion in federal funding they received to reopen safely.

“If all that money was spent on COVID mitigation, did it work?” Johnson asked. “Have all efforts been in vain? Because it clearly doesn’t work.

Jeske said Deer Creek has been slow to use its funds to increase the salary offered to substitute teachers, and that district’s salary for substitute teachers still remains lower than that offered in some other districts.

“We don’t see how that money was spent other than hand sanitizer,” Jeske said.

But, she says, school officials often get in the way when parents ask pointed questions about spending.

“When you ask about it, you’re just an ‘angry parent,'” Jeske said. “When you ask for accounts, how did we spend this money? What are you doing to ensure that our child’s education will be protected and guaranteed? – (the answer is): “You’re just crazy.”

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