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Okla. officials, administrators work to form remote learning plan

(WHSV)
Published: Mar. 23, 2020 at 2:56 PM CDT
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Oklahoma education officials are working with administrators to form a remote-learning plan to prepare for the likely extended school shutdown amid public health concerns spurred by the new coronavirus pandemic.

The Oklahoma State Department of Education prohibited remote learning during the two-week closure caused by the coronavirus outbreak because of feasibility and equity concerns, particularly for students with disabilities and those who may lack access to the internet.

But now as the new virus upends life across the nation, officials are reconsidering remote learning as the probability of closing schools beyond April 6 looms.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover.

Gov. Kevin Stitt said Sunday that there are 81 people in the state who have tested positive for the virus.

Tulsa Public Schools Superintendent Deborah Gist noted that remote learning makes it difficult to meet the needs of students with disabilities as mandated by federal law.

“For one thing, school districts need to be ready to be able to deliver instruction, and we also need to make sure we have a focus on equity,” Gist said. “There are some real legalities around access to children for free and appropriate public education.”

Private schools, however, will proceed with remote learning this week because they don’t fall under the state’s purview.

Tulsa World requested comment from the education department, but a spokeswoman referred to a webpage that highlighted the Individualized Education Programs for students who need special education, the newspaper reported Monday.

“The state cannot carve out unique exceptions during a national state of emergency or response to a world pandemic,” the FAQ page says. “Moreover, an inconsistent approach would impact requirements for students with IEPs and English learners. If instruction were to continue online, students on IEPs would be required to receive services - including in-person services - when it would be difficult to ensure their safe continuation.”

Meanwhile, students' inaccessibility to the internet or tech devices at home has been a rising issue.

Rebecca Fine, an education policy analyst at Oklahoma Policy Institute, said education a civil rights issue and noted state officials should consider equitable education solutions for all students.

“Now is not the time to deepen the divide between classmates who have vastly different resources available to them,” Fine said. “We need to identify and provide solutions that ensure all of Oklahoma students are able to move forward together.”

Earlier this month, the state's two largest universities, Oklahoma University and Oklahoma State, announced their transition to online classes as a precaution against the coronavirus.

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The Associated Press receives support for health and science coverage from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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