In The Know: OKC school announces mask mandate, Tulsa schools authorizes legal action | Hospitals running out of ICU space

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.

New from OK Policy

Policy Matters: Taking the field without a helmet: No parent would send their softball player to the plate without a batting helmet or their peewee football player on the field without a helmet. Yet, today, Oklahoma families are preparing to send our children back into classrooms without requiring the full measure of protection against the COVID-19 virus. [Ahniwake Rose / Journal Record]

Oklahoma News

An Oklahoma school system defies law against mask mandate as other districts discuss legal action: An Oklahoma City charter school plans to enforce a mask mandate for all students, staff and visitors in order to fight the spread of COVID-19, ignoring a state law enacted this year that stripped schools of the authority to require face coverings. Santa Fe South Schools, a charter school district in south Oklahoma City, announced Wednesday it will require masks for anyone on school grounds, according to a letter posted online by Superintendent Chris Brewster. [The Frontier] Superintendent Chris Brewster at Santa Fe South Schools, a 3,500-student, pre-K through 12 district in south Oklahoma City, also said in a letter on the district’s website that he is exploring the possibility of requiring a vaccine for employment at the school. [AP News] The Legislature passed Senate Bill 658 during the last session that prohibits school districts from requiring COVID immunizations and enforcing mask mandates. [OKC Free Press] Santa Fe South is the first Oklahoma district that the defies the school mask mandate ban. Gov. Kevin Stitt has said he has no plans to issue any emergency orders. [The Oklahoman]

  • Tulsa Public Schools board authorizes attorneys to take mask action [Tulsa World]
  • Tulsa school board put on notice by team of lawyers ‘quite likely to sue’ for lack of mask mandate [Tulsa World]
  • State superintendent applauds districts that label masks as an expectation after state makes mandates illegal [Tulsa World]
  • NCAA among 29 higher ed groups calling for repeal of ‘dangerous’ bans on public health measures [Public Radio Tulsa]
  • Health officials will work with districts as students return to class [The Lawton Constitution]

‘There’s no way to find a bed:’ Oklahoma hospitals are running out of room amid COVID-19 surge: Oklahoma hospitals are at their limits once again. COVID-19 hospitalizations have climbed rapidly in the past month, now reaching levels not seen since early 2021. On Wednesday, the three-day average for COVID-19 hospitalizations was 1,102 — the first time it rose over 1,000 since early February. Forty-nine pediatric hospitalizations were included in that number, and 294 people were in ICU beds with COVID-19. Intensive-care unit beds are scarce, so some patients are now being sent out of state for treatment — wherever their doctors can find a bed for them. Larger Oklahoma hospitals are forced to deny requests from smaller facilities to transfer patients in, simply because there’s no space. [The Oklahoman]

  • COVID-19: Oklahoma hospitalizations surpass 1,100; state’s admission rate ranks fifth in nation [Tulsa World]
  • ‘We just want help to come in the quickest way’: Hospitals seek relief amid COVID surge [Public Radio Tulsa]
  • COVID-19 forces Ascension St. John Medical Center to delay some nonemergency surgeries because of ‘severe hospital overcrowding’ [Tulsa World]
  • Southwest Oklahoma sees a 116 percent increase in COVID-19 ICU hospitalizations [The Lawton Constitution]
  • Oklahoma elected officials wrestle with implications of declaring state of emergency [CNHI via Stillwater News-Press]

State Government News

Stitt lacked authority to end some pandemic unemployment benefits, court told: The fate of pandemic unemployment benefits for tens of thousands of Oklahomans is in the hands of the Oklahoma Supreme Court. An Oklahoma Supreme Court referee on Wednesday heard arguments in two cases challenging the state’s decision to end the additional federal benefits early. One case involves 10 people who challenged the decision by Oklahoma Employment Security Commission Executive Director Shelley Zumwalt and Gov. Kevin Stitt decision to end the $300 a week additional federal aid in unemployment. [Tulsa World] The other lawsuit was decided in Oklahoma County district court last week, when a judge ordered the state to reinstate the program. Oklahoma Employment Security Commission Executive Director Shelley Zumwalt wants the state supreme court to overturn that ruling. [Public Radio Tulsa]

  • ‘We can’t just flip a switch’ to restart COVID-19 pandemic unemployment benefits, state says [The Oklahoman]

Fiscal year’s first general revenue report beats expectations by 10%: Fiscal year 2022 got off to a good start for the state of Oklahoma, with July general revenue coming in 10% above projections, the Office of Management and Enterprise Services reported. General revenue is the state’s principal operating fund. General revenue for July, the first month of the fiscal year, was $561.6 million, or $50.9 million above the projected amount. [Tulsa World]

Federal Government News

Cherokee Chief Chuck Hoskin touts rural broadband in teleconference with President Joe Biden: Rural northeastern Oklahoma would likely see a significant boost in broadband connectivity as a result of the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill passed Tuesday morning by the U.S. Senate, Cherokee Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said Wednesday afternoon during a virtual conference with President Joe Biden. [Tulsa World]

Criminal Justice News

‘It’s still going on’: Wrongful convictions leave unhealed wounds: In 1982, the town of Ada was shocked to learn a young woman named Debbie Carter had been brutally assaulted and murdered. Carter’s murder has been recounted in the bestselling book “The Innocent Man” and a wildly successful Netflix documentary of the same name, but her cousin Christy Sheppard says those stories aren’t about Carter. They retell the horrific details of her murder and the state’s initial failure to bring her family justice. Sheppard’s cousin died almost 40 years ago but the case still isn’t over. [StateImpact Oklahoma]

Federal judge says Oklahoma death penalty suit can proceed: A federal judge in Oklahoma City ruled Wednesday a lawsuit challenging the state’s lethal injection protocols can proceed to trial, making it likely Oklahoma’s de facto moratorium on executions will extend into a seventh year. U.S. District Judge Stephen Friot agreed in his order to consider at trial whether Oklahoma’s current three-drug protocol risks subjecting inmates to unconstitutional pain and suffering. [AP News] Friot shot down the claims, though, of six other death-row inmates who did not cite an alternative execution method in court filings. [Tulsa World]

Another former Oklahoma County jailer charged with assault: Another former Oklahoma County detention officer has been accused in a misdemeanor charge of going too far during a confrontation with a jail inmate. A dozen other former jailers have been charged in Oklahoma County District Court in the last year over incidents with inmates. Most involve incidents that took place after a trust took over jail operations 13 months ago. [The Oklahoman]

  • Public invited to bring ideas about future of Oklahoma County Jail [OKC Free Press]

OKC policing task force consultant submits initial de-escalation, use of force recommendations: Changes to Oklahoma City police’s de-escalation and use-of-force procedures are prioritized in a consultant’s preliminary recommendations for community policing and law enforcement policy. The city hired 21CP Solutions, at the recommendation of the Mayor’s Law Enforcement Policy Task Force and the Community Policing Working Group, to review the Oklahoma City Police Department’s policies and procedures and provide recommendations on ways to improve. [The Oklahoman]

Economic Opportunity

Councilors, state lawmakers discuss how to address housing abuses: City councilors on Wednesday asked state legislators to help hold bad landlords accountable and strengthen tenants’ rights. They even had a list of potential measures they could implement, presented by Becky Gligo, executive director of Housing Solutions and the city’s former director of housing policy. [Tulsa World]

  • Relocated community fridge a symptom of a bigger problem, advocates say [Norman Transcript]

Economy & Business News

Director of TU’s energy school: National demand for fossil fuels may not rebound to pre-pandemic levels: Tom Seng, director of the University of Tulsa’s School of Energy, Policy, and Commerce, talks about the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report out this week. “The report is telling us that things are essentially worse than predicted, that global warming is happening at an accelerated pace.” [Public Radio Tulsa]

Despite COVID surge, Oklahoma City area retailers experience continued economic rebound: Many business owners across the metro area experiencing a growth in sales. The city received its highest-ever sales tax check in May at $47 million. Collections have been nearly as high all summer, with the latest check totaling $46 million. [The Oklahoman]

Education News

Learning loss during COVID-19 pandemic catching up to students: American students have now endured 2 1/2 semesters in a global pandemic and experts say some learning loss is beginning to show. In Texas, almost 1 million students are now behind their grade level in math after a year of virtual learning. Reading scores in Florida dropped by 4% compared to 2019. [KFOR]

‘Inflammatory assertions’: Read OU’s answer to NonDoc’s lawsuit: On July 26, the University of Oklahoma Board of Regents answered NonDoc’s lawsuit seeking the release of the two investigatory reports produced by the law firm Jones Day regarding OU’s misrepresentation of financial data and alleged sexual misconduct by former President David Boren. [NonDoc]

Oklahoma Local News

Quote of the Day

“(Our school’s families) place a very high expectation on us to care for their children. In fact, that is the central motivation on a decision like this – our community rightfully expects their kids to be safe at school.”

-Santa Fe South Schools Superintendent Chris Brewster, who announced on Wednesday that the Oklahoma City public charter school would be requiring masks despite a new state law prohibiting public schools and universities from enacting mask mandates [The Frontier

Number of the Day


Oklahoma’s current three-day average for COVID-19 hospitalizations — the first time it rose over 1,000 since early February. Of those, 49 were pediatric hospitalizations, and 294 people were in ICU beds with COVID-19. [The Oklahoman]

Policy Note

Reading, ’Rithmetic and Resisting COVID: The New 3 R’s as Kids Head Back to School: When kids head back to school this fall, for some it will be the first time they’ve been in a real classroom with other students since the pandemic began. Even if they attended classes in person last year, the spread of the highly transmissible delta variant of COVID-19 will require a new safety calculation, particularly for parents of kids younger than 12, who can’t yet get a vaccine. [Kaiser Family Foundation]

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Jessica joined OK Policy as a Communications Associate in January 2018. A Mexican immigrant, she was a Clara Luper Scholar at Oklahoma City University where she obtained a B.A. in Political Science and Philosophy. Prior to joining OK Policy, Jessica worked at a digital marketing agency in Oklahoma City. She is an alumna of both the National Education for Women (N.E.W.) Leadership Institute (2013) and OK Policy's Summer Policy Institute (2015). In addition to her role at OK Policy, Jessica serves as a board member for Dream Action Oklahoma in OKC and communications director for Dream Alliance Oklahoma in Tulsa.

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