NORMAN — A group of parents is asking Norman Public Schools to change course with its back-to-school plans through an open letter that has drawn nearly 2,000 signatures of support.
The letter, which addresses seven specific points of concern, had gained more than 1,900 signatures from parents, educators and Norman community members as of early Monday afternoon.
While the letter makes several requests of the district, it mainly asks that NPS delay the start of the school year until the district can thoroughly address some of the biggest community concerns with its back-to-school plan.
MaryAnn Martin, a NPS parent and one of the forces behind the document, said the parents who wrote the letter do not feel that the district can safely reopen schools next month with its current plan.
“We do not think, as a group, that in-person instruction should take place starting Aug. 17, period,” Martin said. “We don’t think it’s safe for teachers to go back for in-person instruction, we don’t think our kids should go back for in-person instruction.”
Norman Public Schools released some of the details of its back to school plan last Tuesday, though administrators emphasized that the plan is still evolving and is subject to change daily. Among the major tenants of the plan are mandatory face coverings for students and employees in school buildings and buses and a three-option instructional plan that allows students to choose in-person, virtual or blended instruction.
A district spokesperson said Monday afternoon that Superintendent Nick Migliorino will speak at Monday evening’s Board of Education meeting and will address the topics in the letter. The board meeting, which starts at 6 p.m., will contain a public communications section for community comments.
The letter also asks that NPS give staff and teachers the option to work remotely until the pandemic is over, and that the district clearly and publicly establish criteria for closing and opening schools to in-person instruction.
While administrators said last week that a “Back to School Task Force” subcommittee is working on the threshold for closing schools, the district has not released any further information on what that threshold will look like.
The letter’s creators are concerned that the current details the district has released about its plans for social distancing are not sufficient, Martin said. NPS announced last week that it plans to stagger arrival and departure times, lunch times and passing periods, among other things, to spread students out at schools.
The letter also focuses on the district’s virtual learning option, which for now would have students who chose to learn virtually take courses provided by a company called Edgenuity. The courses, while monitored and approved by NPS staff, would not be taught by Norman teachers.
The letter requests that instead of outsourcing virtual teaching to Edgenuity, NPS find a way for students to learn virtually from NPS teachers this fall.
“We don’t want to send our kids to Epic [Charter Schools], we don’t want to send our kids to an online program that uses out-of-state teachers,” Martin said. “We sought out Norman schools, we want our kids to be taught by Norman teachers — that’s the ideal situation for us. ... We love our teachers, and that’s who we want our kids to be with.”
Parents also are concerned that the district has not yet specified how learning through Edgenuity will impact students with specialized learning plans, said Martin, who has a student on an individualized education program.
“We just haven’t gotten any sort of clarification from the district as to what it means,” Martin said.
Along with requests about guidelines for the return to school, the letter also addresses the needs of some of NPS’ more vulnerable students. The letter’s authors ask that the district partner with local community organizations that serve students to support any student in need through any possible period of virtual learning.
If the district does have to switch to virtual instruction at any point this fall, the move will impact students who rely on their school for academic, technological, mental and nutritional support, Martin said.
“We know as parents that there are so many families and so many children who are at risk here in Norman — not everyone has access to a computer, not everyone has access to Wi-Fi, and that is a very serious concern of ours,” Martin said.
Monday’s Board of Education meeting is scheduled for 6 to 9 p.m., and will take place mostly virtually (live streaming is available via the district’s YouTube channel). Public comments must be made in person at the district’s Administrative Services Center at 131 S. Flood Ave.