Union Public Schools’ Board of Education voted to start the 2020-2021 school year with in-person learning on Aug. 24, in spite of guidance from public health officials and others that suggest distance learning is the safest option. Superintendent Kirt Hartzler had recommended to the Board that the district switch to distance learning for the beginning of the school year; however, they voted down the measure 3-2 in favor of traditional school for those who selected the in-person option. Approximately 35 percent of students districtwide are enrolled in virtual learning, which is a completely separate platform; distance learning is only intended to be an option for students in the event that in-person learning is interrupted due to Covid-19.
“This has been an extremely difficult decision, as the safety of our students has always been our No. 1 goal,” said Superintendent Dr. Kirt Hartzler. “However, our board has examined the recommendations of the Tulsa Health Department and the protocols issued by the State Board of Education, and weighed them against the learning needs of our students and the desire of many parents to have children back in school. As a result, the children enrolled in in-person learning will start the school year in classrooms with teachers. While I still have concerns, I can assure you that Union Public Schools will do everything in its power to keep students and staff safe. We will proceed with in-person school as long as possible, and should it become necessary to take action, we will close school as needed. That is in our School Re-Entry Plan, and we will stick with the plan.”
In the event a school or district closure becomes necessary, distance learning would be activated and the effected students would work remotely from home using district-owned laptops or iPad devices. According to the superintendent, Union has made significant improvements to distance learning since the spring implementation. “We literally had two weeks to put that plan in place. We have since had three months over the summer to develop a structured, more robust plan for distance learning based on parent and teacher feedback.” Enhancements made to distance learning include:
- Supporting new learning through live lessons, recorded lessons, and small group instruction;
- A more structured day for students and teachers.
- Daily attendance will be taken.
- Homework will be submitted and graded; student grades will be impacted if they do not participate or submit homework as expected.
- Teaching new standards aligned with the Oklahoma Academic Standards.
In addition to guidance from the Tulsa Health Department and the State Board of Education, Hartzler had also cited guidance from the Oklahoma Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics (OKAAP) and the Oklahoma Academy of Family Physicians (OAFP) this week that said they “cannot support a statewide return to in-person school decision for Oklahoma in August.” Superintendent Hartzler said he has heard from a steady stream of teachers who have deep concerns about their personal safety in classrooms, and the possibility they may bring the virus home to loved ones who are more susceptible. Parents have also been vocal on both sides of the issue, with an overwhelming number expressing their concern for students returning to school.