During an Oklahoma State Board of Education meeting on July 23, state officials voted down a proposed mask mandate and closure requirements for public schools.
The OKSBOE voted 4-3 on a proposal that would recommend – not require – a COVID-19 Alert System. The color-coded system would be active through September 30 and would enforce more restrictions on schools in increments as the coronavirus picks up steam in a county.
Under this Alert System, schools would be ordered to shutter once their particular county reached 25 positive cases per 100,000 people. The board members who were against this proposal said they believe local school districts should be able to form their own policies.
The alert system was developed by the Oklahoma State Department of Education, with the assistance of state health experts. The colors of the alert system would of course represent different levels.
As confirmed positive cases increased, the system would raise from a Green Level, to a Yellow Level. Then, it would go to Orange Level 1, Orange Level 2 and the highest alert, Red Level. The numbers are based on a county’s population density and the number of positive cases would be per 100,000 people.
At the Yellow Level, a mask mandate would be instituted. All school employees and students in grades fourth through twelfth would be required to wear a mask while at school. The board suggested to change the wording from required to recommended.
The same board who voted against an Alert System and a mask mandate was the same board who voted to close the schools entirely back in March when the pandemic first reared its ugly head.
Board member Jennifer Monies said they have more information on the virus than they did in March when the board’s focus was more on flattening the curve of hospitalizations in Oklahoma.
“Now, we know there is a difference in community spread in Oklahoma County versus a county that’s had one case,” Monies said in an interview with The Oklahoman. “That’s to me the big difference is we have much more differentiated data now than we did in March, and so therefore we need a differentiated solution.”
Oklahoma State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister said she was disappointed by the vote.
“For today, we have recommendations,” Hofmeister said to the media after the meeting ended. “I think districts are grateful for that, but I don’t believe that the recommendations provide enough confidence for families and teachers that have been emailing and writing saying that they are seeking more of a uniform state answer to help slow the virus spread and reduce risk in every Oklahoma school.”
Hofmeister also said she was apprehensive that some teachers might retire or just flat out refuse to return to the classrooms without a mask mandate or some type of safety precautions.