Motion to require masks at SPS during orange and red levels fails

E.B. Thompson

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Several nearby school districts have implemented an indoor masking requirement for students and teachers recently, including Jenks, Union, and Glenpool Public Schools.

But an attempt to impose a similar requirement at Sapulpa Public Schools by board member Melinda Ryan was struck down at Tuesday evening’s Board of Education meeting. 

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Ryan said, “the CDC, the Oklahoma Health Department, and many other entities have all recommended required masking indoors to reduce the spread of COVID with numbers this high.” Positive cases within the Sapulpa Public Schools district “have consistently stayed around 40,” she reported. “Last year we very successfully used masks—no problems, no outbreaks, no fights, no fits, or any disciplinary problems.” 

Superintendent Rob Armstrong confirmed that they did not have those issues, but said that “the conditions then were not the same as they are now” and that “overwhelmingly, our parents want schools to be open. And we’re being told this particular variant is beginning to plateau.” 

“Here are my concerns,” said Ryan. “Every reputable study, from Duke, the Mayo Clinic, Harvard, Yale, all say that wearing masks reduces the spread of COVID and that it’s something that you should do in schools. I’m a science girl. If we are being told by all of our health departments, reputable people, hospitals, that we can save lives and prevent illnesses and stay in school, and prevent the mutation of this virus, by simply being responsible and doing what we did last year so successfully, I don’t see any reason not to do so. Jenks, Union, and Glenpool [have all instituted a mask requirement].”

Armstrong countered, saying, “Bixby isn’t even contact tracing, Broken Arrow voted [a mask requirement] down last night. Last year everyone was pulling together. Cities, communities, restaurants—Why are schools being asked to carry the burden to eradicate a virus? Why are schools shouldering the burden when we’re not getting the same response as last year? Gyms, churches, and restaurants are all full.”

Ryan asked, “So there’s a problem following science and education recommendations when we’re science and education providers? Now we’re having such an increase in pediatric hospitalizations. It’s so much more spreadable and so preventable. My request is to follow the recommendation of the experts that are put there to do research for us.” 

If that were the case, claimed Armstrong, “we’d have been in Distance Learning since about week two, if we were to quarantine every exposure, and we’re over 2,000 exposures.” And “only about 45 of those students contracted the virus.” 

“That we know of,” said Ryan. “These are self-reporting people. We are trusting the parents to keep their kids home. They’re double stacking in emergency pods. Emergency rooms are packed. We have to be good citizens as well. It’s not a lot to ask.” 

Ultimately, Ryan made a motion to modify the Return to Learn Plan for 2021-2022 to follow the recommendations for masking as set out in the Tulsa County Health Department guidance. “That being that, if we are a red or orange level status, we do that. Students can opt out for religious, personal, or medical reasons. They can have an armband that says they are an exemption. We can make it effective at a date when you have been able to notify everyone and to get ready.” 

No second to the motion was offered and the proposal failed. 

Board Chair Steve McCormick made a motion to update the RLP to recommend quarantining a school, grade, or class as conditions warrant. Board members Sarah Havenstrite, Wayne Richards, and McCormick voted yes, and the motion passed. 

Armstrong said that the SPS administration is “dedicated to looking at [the statistics] all the time. When these conditions continue to change, I recommend we meet again in a special meeting and to not wait until the next regular meeting to look at those conditions and if changes need to be made at that time, we go through that process.” 

As of the day of the meeting, Tuesday, September 14th, SPS had 60 positive COVID cases, 52 of which were students, 8 of which were staff members.