In The Know: Gov. releases controversial in-person school policy | Schools facing big midyear cuts | OK Capitol security beefed up

In The KnowIn The Know is your daily briefing on Oklahoma policy-related news. Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. Some stories included here are behind paywall or require subscription. OK Policy encourages the support of Oklahoma’s state and local media, which are vital to an informed citizenry. Subscribe to In The Know and see past editions.

Oklahoma News

Oklahoma students exposed to the coronavirus in school will no longer be required to quarantine: Quarantining after a COVID-19 exposure will now be optional in Oklahoma classrooms if students and teachers are wearing a mask. The state’s new policy was announced by Gov. Kevin Stitt in a press conference Tuesday afternoon. It will incentivize mask wearing and keep more kids in the classroom when people who test positive for COVID-19 are discovered in schools, Stitt said. A state department of education spokeswoman said Oklahoma Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister was not invited to the press conference Tuesday and wasn’t involved in crafting the plan. [StateImpact Oklahoma] Districts can skip the mandatory two-week quarantine for teachers and students as long as they’re following COVID-19 safety protocols such as mask-wearing and social distancing, health officials said Tuesday. [CNHI via Ada News] Overall, officials at the press conference emphasized their desire for all schools to offer an option for in-person instruction. Local school boards are tasked with making that decision. [NonDoc] Stitt continued to criticize districts like Oklahoma City and Tulsa public schools that have pushed back in-person returns amid rising COVID numbers, despite saying he supports local control. [Public Radio Tulsa]

  • Governor’s staff discussed a plan to reopen schools based on mask mandate [The Frontier]

Schools face dramatic midyear cuts; Epic gains $156 million: Dramatic shifts in public school enrollment to virtual charter schools because of the pandemic just resulted in significant midyear reductions in state aid allocations to many Oklahoma school districts. An influx of new students netted Epic Charter Schools’ two primarily online school choices an additional $156 million, while four other growing online schools picked up another $13.9 million. But about 500 of the state’s 509 school districts and 31 charter schools saw reductions, with almost 120 of those down 10% or more from what the state told them to expect in late August. [Tulsa World]

  • FY 2021 midyear adjustments for all Oklahoma school districts (PDF) [Tulsa World]

Oklahoma Capitol security enhanced as FBI warns of armed protests: Following warnings from federal law enforcement officials, state and local leaders are preparing for the possibility of protests at the Oklahoma state Capitol in the next week. Gov. Kevin Stitt has been in contact with members of the Oklahoma National Guard and legislative leaders talked with Oklahoma Department of Public Safety officials after the deadly siege at the U.S. Capitol last week. [The Oklahoman]

  • Oklahoma Second Amendment Association warns members to not attend pro-Trump rallies this weekend [KOCO]

Health News

Oklahoma health experts warn of ‘extremely critical’ time for rising COVID hospitalizations: Oklahoma’s coronavirus cases and positivity rate are again on the rise and health experts are again ringing alarm bells about hospitalizations. Hospitals are nearing the point that will require them to ration care, and health experts are urging Oklahomans to ramp up safety precautions. [StateImpact Oklahoma via KOSU]

Oklahoma health officials choose rapid coronavirus vaccination over rigid phase model: StateImpact Oklahoma’s Catherine Sweeney talked with Deputy Commissioner of Health Keith Reed, who is overseeing the vaccine program, about why our state is allowing its vaccine phases to overlap. [StateImpact Oklahoma]

  • OKC-County Health Dept. adds 5,000 COVID-19 vaccination appointments, booked within minutes [KOCO]
  • Health Department offers COVID-19 vaccines to Oklahoma legislators [The Oklahoman]
  • OK vaccine distribution among fastest in nation, but Tulsa lagging says Stitt’s office [KTUL]
  • Tulsa County Health Department director hopes changes to Federal vaccine effort translate to good news for eager Tulsans [Public Radio Tulsa]

Opinion: Oklahoma vaccine rule should stay in place: The state Health Department is mulling whether to roll back a rule requiring parents to receive some instruction before exempting their children from vaccines due to religious or personal reasons. Oklahomans should back the rule before the comment period ends Thursday. [Owen Canfield III / The Oklahoman]

State Government News

Stitt staffer faces heat for ‘Democrats in body bags’ tweet: A new member of Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt’s communications staff faced fierce criticism Tuesday for a tweet last week in which she praised a national Republican group for putting “House Democrats in body bags.” Oklahoma Democratic Party Chair Alicia Andrews called for Stitt to demand the resignation of Carly Atchison, his new director of strategic communications whose Jan. 5 tweet came one day before last week’s violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. Five people died in the riot, including a Capitol police officer. [AP News via Public Radio Tulsa] The Governor’s Chief of Communications said, “The phrase used wasn’t to be taken literally and any insinuation otherwise is ridiculous.” [KFOR]

Federal Government News

Most of Oklahoma’s federal delegation say they support arrests, charges for those involved in Capitol riot: As the country continues to grapple with the riots last week at the U.S. Capitol, many of Oklahoma’s congressional delegation have called for arrests and prosecutions for some rioters, while the five House of Representatives members who objected to vote certification — actions some have said helped fuel the riots in the first place — continue to defend their decision to do so. [The Frontier]

  • Rep. Mullin upset over new security measures, refuses mask during riots [KTUL]
  • ‘Can’t stop me’: GOP lawmakers refuse to pass Capitol metal detectors after pro-Trump riot [Newsweek]
  • Democrats infected with COVID-19 following siege on Capitol furious at maskless Republicans [ABC News]
  • Rep. Tom Cole opposes impeachment of Trump, calls for healing [The Oklahoman]
  • Rep. Cole opposes House Resolution urging Pence and cabinet to remove Trump following attack [Public Radio Tulsa]
  • Sen. Lankford discusses House starting impeachment process week after riot at Capitol [KOCO]

Criminal Justice News

Jury trials postponed in some state districts due to McGirt, virus: Jury trials slated for January have been postponed due to the McGirt ruling and concern over COVID-19. District 15 District Judge Doug Kirkley was informed of new information regarding motions needing to be filed, and jurisdictional questions were raised pertaining to last year’s McGirt ruling. [Muskogee Phoenix]

Economic Opportunity

More rental assistance could be coming to Oklahoma County: Oklahoma County officials are applying to receive some of the $25 billion in rental assistance recently set aside by the federal government to mitigate evictions during the COVID-19 pandemic. [The Oklahoman] Oklahoma County commissioners apply for federal rent assistance program for unemployed [OKC Free Press]

Economy & Business News

Bars granted reprieve from curfew until July in case against Stitt: Citing a lack of evidence from the state that a curfew on bars would slow the spread of COVID-19, an Oklahoma District Court judge ordered Tuesday that a temporary injunction against the curfew will remain into summer. [The Oklahoman]

Education News

Oklahoma City Community College names interim president: Oklahoma City Community College has named Jeremy L. Thomas as its interim president. Thomas assumed the role on Jan. 2 and will continue his roles as provost and vice president of Student Affairs. [The Oklahoman]

General News

Commemoration Fund begins taking grant applications to ‘disrupt narrative’ in Tulsa: Describing its goal as “disrupting the traditional philanthropic narrative” in Tulsa, the Commemoration Fund has begun taking applications for millions of dollars in grant money that will be allocated entirely by “people of color.” The Zarrow Families Foundation, one of city’s best-known philanthropic efforts, announced the fund last June, citing inspiration from Black Lives Matter protests in Tulsa and across the United States. [Tulsa World]

Quote of the Day

“The governor says schools are safe, but what is he doing to ensure that? He calls for no quarantining when there is a mask policy but won’t demand strong mask policies. He cherry picks data instead of holistically tackling the pandemic.”

-Oklahoma Education Association President Alicia Priest [StateImpact Oklahoma

Number of the Day


The cumulative incidence of laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 cases among American Indians and Alaska Natives was 3.5 times higher than for whites. [Centers for Disease Control]

Policy Note

Tribal Elders Are Dying From the Pandemic, Causing a Cultural Crisis for American Indians: The loss of tribal elders has swelled into a cultural crisis as the pandemic has killed American Indians and Alaska Natives at nearly twice the rate of white people, deepening what critics call the deadly toll of a tattered health system and generations of harm and broken promises by the U.S. government. One by one, those connections are being severed as the coronavirus tears through ranks of Native American elders, inflicting an incalculable toll on bonds of language and tradition that flow from older generations to the young. “It’s like we’re having a cultural book-burning,” said Jason Salsman, a spokesman for the Muscogee (Creek) Nation in eastern Oklahoma, whose grandparents contracted the virus but survived. “We’re losing a historical record, encyclopedias. One day soon, there won’t be anybody to pass this knowledge down.” [New York Times]

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David Hamby has more than 25 years of experience as an award-winning communicator, including overseeing communication programs for Oklahoma higher education institutions and other organizations. Before joining OK Policy, he was director of public relations for Rogers State University where he managed the school’s external communication programs and served as a member of the president’s leadership team. He served in a similar communications role for five years at the University of Tulsa. He also has worked in communications roles at Oklahoma State University and the Fort Smith Chamber of Commerce in Arkansas. He joined OK Policy in October 2019.

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