Stillwater Public Schools and Meridian Technology Center are joining schools across the state in closing due to rising COVID-19 infections.
SPS Interim Superintendent Gay Washington announced Thursday that Stillwater schools will be closed Friday due to a lack of teachers and support staff. Meals will not be provided, school buildings will be closed to non-essential personnel and SPS-operated daycare will not be open Friday.
“After deliberation with principals and considering the ramifications of doing so, I have decided to close all SPS schools for Friday, January 14. Closing this Friday, along with Monday’s MLK Day holiday, gives us a four day period of healing and hopeful return to sustainable staffing levels that should help ensure future closures are not necessary,” Washington said in a statement released Thursday.
MTC said it was instituting a complete campus closure Friday "out of an abundance of caution for the health and safety of our students and staff." Adult-only programs that use clinical facilities will be allowed to continue.
"Our team has been meeting daily to monitor cases as well as review guidance from the CDC and the Oklahoma State Department of Health," MTC officials said in a statement released Thursday. "We are in constant communication with our 10 partner schools, a number of which have made the decision to close for several days or transitioned to temporary virtual learning."
Perry Public Schools also announced on Thursday that all school sites would be closed Friday due to increased cases among school personnel, support staff and substitute teachers.
Pawnee Public Schools are having an early release day Friday with students getting out of school at 1 p.m.
Superintendent Stacy Womack updated parents, staff and community members in a letter released Wednesday, that addressed rising infections and noted that many school events have recently been canceled or postponed because of the impact COVID is having on Pawnee schools and many of the schools they compete with.
"Our numbers of positive cases have steadily increased throughout this week, and as a result, our quarantine numbers have also increased," Womack wrote. "It is important for families to know the spread of COVID has occurred across all three campuses and the likelihood of exposure is elevated ... It is our goal to remain open to better serve our students but also feel it is important to be transparent with our community regarding our current situation."
She said the district will continue efforts to mitigate the spread of the virus through additional disinfection.
Perkins-Tryon and Yale public schools both announced Tuesday that they would be canceling in-person classes for the rest of the week.
Yale shifted to distance learning, while Perkins-Tryon opted to take time off after building extra days into the school calendar.
Perkins-Tryon closed after losing most of its nutrition workers to illness, a situation Superintendent Joe McElroy said rendered it unable to feed students.
Students were already scheduled to be out of school Monday for the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday and school officials at most districts seem to be looking at the extended time off as a chance for people to recover.
All districts in the Stillwater area say they are expecting students to be back in class Tuesday.
Cases of COVID-19 and seasonal illnesses are impacting the ability of Stillwater’s teachers and staff to come to work, whether it's due to their illness or the closure of daycares and other area schools, Washington said.
On Thursday, SPS reported 93 employees, including 63 of the district’s 425 teachers were absent from work.
“A persistent lack of substitutes means our site operations are being disrupted at unsustainable levels. Individual sites, and the district as a whole, have exceeded school board approved protocols for staff absences that would justify considering closing sites,” the SPS release said. “ … It’s important to note that, while not a deciding factor, district COVID cases are at an elevated level, with more student cases occurring than ever before as can be seen on the district’s COVID dashboard. The reason for this closure is a lack of staffing to allow for safe operation of our schools.”
A job fair to recruit support staff was still held Thursday afternoon. The district described it as an important part of the effort to have enough staff going forward to allow for school operations and keep kids in school.
It encouraged anyone interested in working for SPS, particularly as a bus driver, teacher assistant, or substitute teacher, to attend the fair or apply online at www.stillwaterschools.com/jobs.
SPS detailed specifics of Friday’s closure.
Students enrolled in Pioneer Virtual Academy will continue their lessons as planned due to state attendance policies for virtual students but the building will not be open to students.
Buildings will not be open to students or non-essential staff. Students were asked to take home any supplies they might need on Thursday.
Nutrition staff will not report to work and no meals will be provided.
SPS PALS child care will not be open Friday. It will reopen Tuesday.
Athletics events will occur barring any cancellations or forfeitures from participating teams or hosting venues.
An OSSAA Academic Bowl Tournament scheduled to take place at the high school has already had two teams forfeit due to COVID cases. The district said it anticipates the OSSAA converting this to a virtual event for the remaining teams. Specific information will be sent to participating students’ families by coaches after they confer with OSSAA on specifics.
The 9th Grade Drama performance will be rescheduled for a later date.
Caretakers are asked to continue reporting any positive cases during the closure and over the weekend by leaving a message at the student’s school site as soon as they get a positive COVID-19 test result.
Anyone who feels ill or may have been exposed to COVID-19 should get tested.
The message should include:
Date of positive result
When symptoms began
Phone number where the caretaker can be reached
“I appreciate the efforts of everyone to keep our students in schools and am happy we have been able to operate without a major disruption longer than many other districts in the state,” Washington said in the release. “I am optimistic that this one day closure in conjunction with MLK Day will increase the likelihood of our in-person operations continuing uninterrupted going forward … I appreciate your understanding in this matter and ask that you assist us in this effort. Please continue mitigation efforts in your daily lives, including possible vaccination or boosters for you and your family, limit your exposure to others by distancing yourself when possible, wear a mask while indoors, and stay home and get tested if you feel unwell or may have been exposed. I further ask that you consider working for or promote working for the district, particularly as a bus driver or substitute.”
Some bus routes have previously been recently had to be canceled for Stillwater and other districts in the area due to a lack of drivers. Staffing levels in other departments also present a problem, as does the lack of substitute teachers.
More information about SPS COVID-19 planning and job openings can be found at stillwaterschools.com.