McAlester COVID-19

ADRIAN O'HANLON III | Staff photoRandy Hughes, superintendent of McAlester Public Schools

McAlester Public Schools will close Thursday and Friday after COVID-19 cases districtwide surged this week.

The district reported 31 staff and 71 students testing positive and 566 total out as of Tuesday night — up from 35 students and staff testing positive and 111 total out as of Friday.

MPS Superintendent Randy Hughes said the district will close Thursday and Friday with the goal of returning to in-person instruction a day after the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday.

“I believe that if we try this, we can get people healthy and get kids back in school,” Hughes said.

“I want to thank our teachers and staff because we did try to keep the doors open, but right now with so many, we can’t effectively have school,” Hughes said.

MPS will not have distance learning on Thursday or Friday and district buildings will be closed for disinfecting protocols. The district will provide meals for students on Thursday and Friday, but will not on Monday due to the holiday.

School officials urged parents and guardians of a student who tests positive during the closure to contact their child’s principal.

MPS tracks and reports COVID-19 data on its website — reporting more than 100 students and staff out due to COVID-19 on Friday for the first time in four months.

District numbers tripled on Monday and continued to rise Tuesday with 31 teachers and 71 students testing positive, and eight teachers and 456 students in isolation for a total of 566 out.

School officials have touted in-person education as the best teaching method throughout the pandemic.

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

School board members voted in November to make masks optional before another spike led to another mask requirement later that month, which led to another decline in cases districtwide.

“Our numbers have always shown that it does decrease the spread,” Hughes said of mask requirements.

Hughes said finding substitutes is always difficult and became more of a struggle recently — leaving the school scrambling.

“Teachers have had to take on more students, we’ve had to have paras and other teachers aides take classes, the librarians have been watching classes,” Hughes said. “It’s been a combination of everything. We’ve used every sub we’ve had, but we haven’t had very many from the beginning of the year because a lot of people don’t want to substitute at our school.”

He said teachers volunteer to take more responsibilities to help the district when it’s shorthanded — “and that’s not just here, it’s all over,” Hughes said.

Administrators even filled in for sick staff at McAlester.

Hughes has covered at the high school, assistant superintendents help at McAlester campuses, program directors fill in as needed districtwide.

“Everybody’s pitching in,” Hughes said.

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

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