The Oklahoma chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Oklahoma Academy of Family Physicians have issued a joint statement saying that while the group supports the goal of safely getting students back to school, they cannot support the opening of in-person schooling in Oklahoma in August.
“While some counties may have extremely low rates of spread, others have growing numbers of positive cases or consistently high positive test rates, indicating that comment spread is uncontrolled and testing is not yet sufficiently reaching all infected people,” the groups stated. “Additionally, safety policies and resources are not standardized across the state, leading to inequitable protection for children, teachers and families.”
The allocation of resources is especially hard on minority and poor children, the statement continues.
To ensure a safe school setting in Oklahoma, OKAAP and OAFP recommend the state prioritize the following strategies, which should be implemented in partnership with educators, administrators, parents, and students.
- Local, Data-Driven Decisions. OKAAP and OAFP believe there should be clear guidance from the state on specific, county-level data indicators that show it is safer to open specific school districts. The White House Opening Up America Again plan suggests reopening schools (Phase 2) when a region has a downward case trajectory OR downward trajectory for the percentage of positive tests (provided there’s sufficient testing) for 14 days. In a similar, but more conservative approach than the color-coded map suggested by the Oklahoma State Board of Education on 7/23/20, we recommend that counties be in the globalepidemics.org/key-metrics-for-covid-suppression/ yellow or green zone (0-10 new cases per 100,000 population) before resuming in-person instruction. OKAAP and OAFP support using, at minimum, these criteria to plan for safe re- opening at the county level. Public health data should not be used only to shut down schools because of an outbreak.
- K-12 Mandatory Masks. OKAAP and OAFP recommend a requirement in schools for mandatory K-12 student and teacher masks. Universal use of masks is the state’s best tool to prevent spread.
- Social Distancing. OKAAP and OAFP believe districts need clearer guidance on how to achieve social distancing and smaller, consistent cohorts of students. This will likely require fewer students to be in school buildings at any given time. Districts should be granted approvals to allow them to expand into space in community centers or to use creative scheduling to allow for social distancing when they open.
- State Purchasing Power. The AAP is advocating for federal funds to support safe public school re-opening. As they have thankfully done for the medical community, the state should utilize its purchasing power to obtain and distribute needed PPE, hand hygiene and cleaning supplies, and sanitation materials, including full medical PPE for all public school nurses, building first responders, and teachers/para-professionals in self-contained/special needs classrooms.
- Clear Communication. The OKAAP and OAFP believe a strong alliance should be established between the health care community, the Oklahoma State Department of Education and the Oklahoma State Department of Health to ensure clear guidance is given to school districts across the state.