McAlester high school

McAlester High School.

School officials in McAlester discussed protocols after the district saw its COVID-19 numbers more than triple over the weekend.

McAlester Public Schools reported more than 100 students and staff out due to COVID-19 on Friday for the first time in four months — then the number more than tripled on Monday to 379 total out. Superintendent Randy Hughes said he believes some kind of closure is inevitable.

“I’m seriously looking at the end of the week,” Hughes said of a potential closure due to COVID-19 cases.

Data from the Oklahoma State Department of Health on Monday shows more than 27,000 new COVID-19 cases statewide since Friday.

MPS tracks and reports COVID-19 data on its website — reporting 16 total positive cases and 111 total out on Friday before the numbers tripled Monday.

District data Monday shows 51 staff members and 25 students tested positive, with five staff and 298 students quarantined for 379 total out.

School officials said 14 teachers tested positive at McAlester High School school and at least 14 teachers at Puterbaugh Middle School tested positive on Monday.

MPS’s Return to Learn policy states any school campus would close if 35% of students at the campus test positive or quarantine; or 50% of staff at the campus test positive or quarantine, or the district can’t acquire enough substitutes.

The policy states the entire district would close if 35% of MPS students test positive or quarantine, or if the district can’t find enough substitutes.

But Hughes and school board members agreed they wanted to take every measure to keep schools open.

“We’re going to do everything we can to stay in school…but we feel like we’re in really good shape to go to distance learning if we have to,” Hughes said.

Board member Cameron Fields said a parent questioned the effectiveness of distance learning and using substitute teachers.

Hughes said teachers worked to improve distance learning since the beginning of the pandemic.

“We’re in a position to provide a top notch education with the teachers at home,” Hughes said.

Board member Rachel Gronwald said she has three students at different campuses who were out due to various illnesses in recent weeks and they were able to stay current on assignments through distance learning.

“I was blown away because that’s never existed before this year,” Gronwald said. She added she’s convinced the district’s distance learning model works.

Board members voted to set a special meeting at a time to be determined next week and amend the Return to Learn policy to align with the CDC guidelines. The only policy change was amending the quarantine length from 10 days to five days, with anyone returning from quarantine required to wear a mask on campus for five days.

Scientific data and many studies show consistent mask wearing helps limit spread of COVID-19.

MPSreported 346 staff and students were out due to positive tests or being a close contact on Aug. 31 before cases drastically declined in the weeks after Hughes required masks districtwide at that meeting.

Board members voted in November to make masks optional before another spike led to another mask requirement later that month.

Medical experts and the CDC recommend everyone 5 years and older get a primary series of the COVID-19 vaccination.

A primary series for children ages 5-17 is two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.

Vaccines approved for anyone at least 18 years old include the two mRNA series of Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna; a Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccine. The CDC states the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna are preferred.

The CDC states mRNA vaccines help cells make a protein that triggers an immune response to protect against infectious diseases. The vaccines do not give someone COVID-19, nor do the vaccines interact with DNA.

School officials said they hope parents “step up and help us” in taking steps to slow the spread.

Contact Adrian O’Hanlon III at aohanlon@mcalesternews.com

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