OKLAHOMA CITY — The State Department of Education announced Monday the closure of all K-12 public schools statewide until at least April 6 as the number of COVID-19 cases climb and the risk of community spread grows.
State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister said the closures will begin Tuesday in a bid to stop the spread of the coronavirus. State education officials said they would continue to monitor the situation to determine if it’s necessary to extend the closures.
The decision does not impact private schools.
“Nothing is more important than the safety and well-being of Oklahomans,” Hofmeister said in a statement. “It is critical that we do everything in our power to protect the health of our kids, their families, educators and all vulnerable populations. That need outweighs everything else.”
The state Department of Health announced Monday that the state has 10 confirmed cases. The additional cases were in Oklahoma and Canadian counties. There were also two confirmed cases involving out-of-state residents — the two Utah Jazz NBA players who tested positive while visiting Oklahoma City for a basketball game.
Health officials, meanwhile, also confirmed community spread is occurring in Oklahoma. That happens when individuals who have no travel history or contact with someone with the disease become infected.
Coronavirus typically spreads like the flu — through coughing and sneezing respiratory droplets. It circulates easily between those in close personal proximity.
Federal health officials said many people suffer milder symptoms like fever and cough, but older people, especially with chronic illnesses and those with weakened immune systems, are at increased risk of complications, including death.
Nearly 215 people have been tested for the virus in Oklahoma. There were 29 pending tests as of Monday afternoon.
Gov. Kevin Stitt said the closure decision was not made lightly but was the right thing to do based on the current guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“This closure will allow us time to further understand how COVID-19 is affecting Oklahoma and give students and staff a period of time to be protected from further community spread of the virus,” he said in a statement. “We know closing schools has a significant impact on families, and we are committed to doing what we can to lessen that impact as we work to prioritize the health and safety of all Oklahomans.”
Nearly three-dozen other states already have shuttered public schools — or plan to soon.
Currently, most schools in Oklahoma are closed for spring break.
Working to ensure the closure does not negatively impact schools and employees, officials said the State Department of Education is issuing guidance on state assessments, school accountability and student attendance.
The department already received federal approval allowing low-income children to continue to receive free meal service during the shutdown.
It’s important that school leaders use the next few days to inform their communities of the closings, food service provisions and other operational needs, said Shawn Hime, executive director of the Oklahoma State School Boards Association.
“Many schools are already working on plans to provide meals to students, some of which may be provided through mobile delivery,” he said. “The closure means that schools will not be providing any type of instruction — either in person or virtually — at this time.”
Teachers and school administrators will continue to be paid during closure, he said.
Students are not expected to have to make up the missed days by adding days onto the school calendar, Hime said.
Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach her at email@example.com.