The recent coronavirus spike in Stillwater is unprecedented, it’s a shock and it’s left people in a state of unease.
The Stillwater School District released its latest plan online earlier this week to reopen in the fall, specifically how it deals with COVID-19.
There were several points made, but some parents thought SPS had a lax approach with not requiring face masks, a lack of strict social distancing guidelines and the online alternative to in-person classes.
Superintendent Marc Moore had an open Facebook Live discussion, where he said the plan that went online was meant to show the latest line of thinking and they expected to get parents' feedback.
“We are currently still in the planning phase. We put some stuff up on the website, really it was just a chance to give us our best thinking to date so people can start giving feedback on some of our thinking," he said. "What we tend to do is we tend to take this feedback to what we are planning and continually revise our plans and then have something finalized more toward the first of July."
Dr. Cristina Gonzalez and Dr. Andrew Doust, two professors at OSU, are also parents to two kids in the Stillwater school system. One is going into 5th grade, the other into 6th.
The couple expressed their frustrations with the Stillwater School District’s decisions.
“I think they’re misguided,” Doust said. “I’ll go as far as that. They’re misguided to think that a ‘business as usual’ approach is not going to really create huge problems.”
It’s important to note this isn’t this isn’t 100 percent of parents. There was a group of local parents who began a petition on change.org to remove all restrictions in the fall and resume school with no restrictions.
In the report, the Stillwater School District mentioned it doesn’t have the budget to have smaller class sizes, which means the students can’t socially distance.
“I don’t think that’s an excuse at all,” Gonzalez said. “I know there’s constraints in every county in the state, and Stillwater is in Payne county. Our public schools in the city, despite having the state university in this city, somehow always fall short of necessary funding, which seems ridiculous.
“But there were and could still be opportunities to have crowd sourcing and GoFundMe campaigns to allocate the needed facemasks and so on. This isn’t a civil liberty issue, this is a health issue.”
That’s the way parents hope to navigate around the budget issue Stillwater School District is citing. But Doust brought up another key point.
“I’m also an administrator, I understand that budgets are there,” Doust said. “But I also understand that COVID, if we get a huge increase because all the schools come back, that’s going to cause a lot more money problems.”
Gonzalez and Doust said they would have rather seen the school go out and get feedback from the parents, teachers, etc. to see what the best way to operate is.
“We’re all a bit amazed that the school district doesn’t see that putting all the students back in the same proximity and not having a strong policy of face covering, that it’s going to end up exactly where it ended up everywhere else with the spread of COVID-19,” Doust said.
While kids definitely want to get back to school, back to their friends, back to their teachers — which is understandable — could a plan parents disagree with have them seeking alternative education?
Gonzalez said she absolutely thinks that’ll happen.
“Unfortunately, it’s going to only make the Stillwater Public School system suffer a bit more – If our students aren’t there,” Gonzalez said.
In the plan, SPS is offering online learning if people don't want their children to return yet, but still want to be Stillwater students.
Gonzalez said it’s the low-income group that will suffer the most — the ones who don’t have access to technology, funds and resources to hire tutors, babysitters, etc.
“There are going to be serious consequences to us doing nothing,” Gonzalez said. “I’m just flabbergasted at a school system dealing with so many young lives and such a wide spectrum of age groups in terms of our teaching staff, that they would carry on this way and not really think through the crisis to arrive at a more responsible set of policies.
Moore said Wednesday that the school is looking at options to give lower-income students internet access and internet-ready devices.
Moore talked about face-coverings in the Facebook Live discussion, saying it has been the biggest issue to prepare for, but that they are still not at the point of mandating students wear them. Teachers and staff will wear them, unless they are able to remain spread out, he said. He said they will "highly recommend students wear a face-covering during the school day." But his concern was it may not be as enforcable for children at different maturity and cognitive levels.
“It’s just frustrating," Gonzalez said. "And I think it says a lot that on this Stillwater Public Schools website, it says something to the effect of, ‘We will take every precaution to make sure that your child isn’t bullied if he or she wishes to wear a mask.’ Really? Are you kidding me? That’s what you’re going to do in the face of a pandemic? Make sure my kid doesn’t get beat up if he decides to wear a mask? We’re screwed if that’s their ‘proactive’ stance in all of this.”
Moore also said they are planning a community-wide campaign focused on educating the public on face coverings.