Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.

Director, Center for Independent Journalism

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The Broken Arrow school district is shutting down in-person learning at its high school and transitioning to a fully online platform due to COVID-19 concerns. But the district’s own data shows very little COVID-19 infection exists at its schools.

“Unfortunately, current COVID transmission in Broken Arrow is at an all-time high, making it impossible to manage employee absences, specifically our bus drivers and classroom teachers,” Broken Arrow Superintendent Janet Vinson wrote in a publicly posted message. “What we are experiencing mirrors the significant uptick of local community spread that has resulted in major increases in positive cases and quarantines for our students and staff— currently a combined total of more than 700 districtwide.”

Vinson said the high school will close starting Monday, Nov. 9 and will not reopen until Nov. 30, a period that includes two school weeks as well as an already-planned weeklong Thanksgiving break.

Data posted by the Broken Arrow district shows that as of Nov. 4 only 32 students out of 15,522 enrolled for in-person instruction currently test positive for COVID-19, or slightly more than two-tenths of 1 percent of students.

District data shows just 25 staff are current positive COVID-19 cases out of 2,350 total staff, or 1 percent.

While the district is closing its high school, in-person instruction will continue for all other grades and high school students will continue to participate in sports.

“In most cases, students who are involved in seasonal sports and activities will be able to continue participation in practices and competitive events,” Vinson wrote. “Individual coaches and activity coordinators will contact their students with additional instructions and guidelines tomorrow.”

Officials at other schools that have provided full-time, in-person instruction have experienced relatively few or no COVID-19 infections among students and staff that were traced to exposure in the school.

From Aug. 13, when the Moore school district reopened for in-person instruction, to the beginning of November, Moore schools had only 349 students and staff test positive for COVID-19, or 1.3 percent of roughly 26,700 individuals—24,000 students and 2,700 employees—in the district. The number of active cases as of Nov. 2 stood at just 38, or a little over one-tenth of 1 percent of the district population.

While students and staff are quarantined at the Moore district if they were near someone who tested positive for the virus, few of those quarantined students and staff ever contracted the virus from such classroom exposure.

“Our data is showing that students are not transmitting it here at school,” said Robert Romines, superintendent of Moore Public Schools. “They’re getting it outside.”

Officials at Stilwell Public Schools in Adair County, which reopened for in-person instruction amidst one of the state’s highest per-capita county rates of COVID-19 infection, have reported similar results. In late September, the superintendent of Stilwell Public Schools told the State Board of Education that there had been only six positive cases of COVID-19 at Stilwell schools from Aug. 12 to late September. None of the six contracted the virus while at school.

The latest figures from Stilwell show just nine of 1,400 students in the district are currently positive for COVID-19, while five of 212 staff members have tested positive.

A statewide survey of active likely Oklahoma voters conducted from August 10 to 13 showed 54 percent of voters “somewhat” or “strongly” support allowing parents to use a share of the state funding allotted for a child’s education to pay for private school tuition or other education options.

An even larger share—63 percent—support using tax dollars for private-school tuition when “a local school district decides not to hold classes in person.” The poll was commissioned by the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs and conducted by Cor Strategies.

Director, Center for Independent Journalism

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