‘Safety for our masses’ at stake

YPS superintendent cites health reasons for moving to all-online classes in 2020-21

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By Conrad Dudderar
Senior Staff Writer

Yukon’s school chief reiterated his decision to move to an all-online learning plan to start the 2020-21 school year was made for health reasons.

“Safety for our masses is at stake here,” Yukon Public Schools’ Superintendent Dr. Jason Simeroth said. “We as a district, and as a school board, believe this is the appropriate response to the conditions we’re in.

“I apologize to those of you that I don’t make happy, but I feel – and we feel – very strongly that this is the correct step.”

In recent weeks, YPS students and personnel tested positive for the COVID-19 virus and had first-hand exposures.

That would have forced several YPS sites to close if traditional school was in session.

“This is without 8,000-9,000 students coming back,” Dr. Simeroth noted. “If we bring kids back to school and someone gets sick or a child dies, that is the worst thing that we could have.”

The district’s fall enrollment for pre-K through 12th grades is 8,738 students.

“We also have to consider our staff and their health. We have people of various ages and people in various medical conditions.”

YPS administrators and teachers would love to welcome students back to the classroom, the district’s leader emphasized.

“We want to safely be able to bring them back, but right now, six feet apart in a classroom is virtually impossible in any classroom if you have 20-25 kids,” he said at the Aug. 4th YPS board meeting. “Even if you take out 75% of our district, spacing those kids out is still really difficult.”

There still would be students standing on lunch lines and sharing school supplies.

“One teacher with COVID will affect 210 students in our high school,” Simeroth said. “Those 210 students then go out to other classrooms, and they expose other kids and they expose other teachers.

“The same goes for our intermediates, elementaries, everything. We don’t feel comfortable exposing people to that level of exposure.”

YPS teachers and staff returned to their buildings late last week to get ready for the 2020-21 school year.

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VERY BAD RANKING

Canadian County on Aug. 11 was ranked fourth statewide in positive COVID-19 cases. with nine deaths including five in Yukon, according to Oklahoma State Health Department data.
Just a few weeks ago, Canadian County was ranked seven statewide.

Yukon, which had 666 confirmed cases including four deaths on Aug. 11, is now sixth among all municipalities in Oklahoma.

“We’re in a ‘hot spot’,” Simeroth said.

Several YPS extracurricular activities and athletics have been forced to shut down due to the virus – including softball, band, ninth grade football, and others.

“We’re trying to give students an opportunity to do something in a very, very controlled environment,” Simeroth said. “But it’s just that hard to do.”

With the steady rise in COVID cases locally, YPS officials are taking this situation quite seriously.

“This is a sleepless time in our lives,” Dr. Simeroth said. “It is. It keeps us up. We agonize over it.”

YPS will implement its online-only Continuous Learning Plan, which officially debuts Aug. 24.

District personnel wanted to welcome students back to classrooms Aug. 20, but virus-spread worries dashed those hopes.

“I have no doubt in my mind that we wouldn’t have been in school more than seven to 10 days, and we would have been out,” Simeroth said.

“We may have come back in a week, been there for three more days, and we would have been out again.”