About 200 parents and students protested outside the Stillwater Pubic Schools administration building Monday, after the district announced it would be canceling sports competitions for the week due to the high rate of COVID-19 infections spreading through Payne County.
The decision was made after the county jumped to 58.17 infections per 100,000, which pushed it into Red, the highest level on the Oklahoma State Department of Education’s COVID-19 alert system.
Junior high and high school softball, volleyball and football players and their parents cried foul at being told they can’t compete. Many of the athletes said they have done everything that was asked of them and their teams haven’t had problems.
The softball team stands to miss both district play and a conference tournament this week, as well as Senior Night.
“Let us play,” Kendyl Prichard said, summing it up for her teammates.
The SHS Pom squad is frustrated at missing the opportunity to perform at football games and share the routines they work so hard to perfect. Some of their competitions have already been canceled and they’re not sure if they’ll be able to attend another one later this year if out of state travel is still forbidden due to COVID-19, senior Lilli Tower said.
Using what seemed to be the word of the day, parent Keysha Sanders said she is frustrated with a lack of communication from the district.
Like the other parents who spoke with the News Press, she isn’t clear on how decisions are being made and doesn’t trust the numbers being used to make them.
“We just don’t know when anything is coming anymore … If you feel like this is a hot zone, but the team we’re playing is somewhere else, if you don’t want to take that chance to fill our stands, why can’t we go away? Why can’t softball travel away?” Sanders said. “I don’t know what we’re doing right now. I’m at a loss for words. This is not the school system I grew up in.”
Although athletics prompted the protest, the protestors also had a lot to say about academics under the school district’s current distance learning system.
Dawndra Berkenbile said her 8th grader and his friends are struggling to stay focused and keep up with what feels like an increased workload.
She estimated that more than one-third of the 8th grade football team’s 60 players are academically ineligible, even if they were having games, because so many of them are behind in their school work and have Fs.
“… they’re not being given the education they should be receiving, they’re not receiving curriculum being taught by certified teachers, licensed teachers, educated people,” Berkenbile said. “I have an education, I even have a math degree but guess what? My kid has 100% in math and guess what he has in other classes? We have two Fs.
“...I have a full-time job, I have a three year old with health issues and I shouldn’t have to spend 27 hours within two days time so I can help my kid get all caught up in homework. I should never have to do that and it didn’t even get him completely caught up on homework. He still had homework due and guess what? Today we have five more assignments …”
The stress is damaging kids’ mental health and some are suffering from depression, she said.
The parents emphasized that they don’t object to distance learning because they need babysitting. They said they respect teachers but feel the way the district is handling distance education isn’t a functional way for their kids to learn.
Debbie Aguilar, the parent of a 7th grade softball player, said her daughter is also struggling with focus and time management while doing her online coursework.
She signed up for an AP math course and is not doing well in it. They have seen her losing confidence, Aguilar said.
“I would love to get her back in the classroom, she is really struggling online. It’s really hard because I love Stillwater, I love the public school system, until this year,” Aguilar said. “I am super disappointed in the administration for not making decisions. Had they early on just went ahead and said ‘We’re going to do virtual for the next nine weeks,’ We could have all gotten over it and done. They could have made a decision. Instead, they’re not, they’re toying with us. Every day it could change. That’s frustrating.
“I would have never signed her up for AP math or approved it if I knew we were going to be learning it online. She still doesn’t have Week 1’s work done and we’re in Week 3, so she is failing that class. She would be ineligible to play, if we could.”