In The Know: Saturday classes approved for next school year; infections rise inside two federal lockups; state virus rate dropping; and more

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

Saturday school? State board OKs one-year flexibility for Oklahoma schools grappling with COVID-19 contingency plans: On Thursday, the Oklahoma State Board of Education voted 5-2 to approve a flexibility waiver allowing schools to count any instruction offered on Saturdays toward the state’s minimum requirement of 180 days of instruction or the equivalent in hours and minutes. [Tulsa World] The Oklahoma State Department of Education encouraged districts to create multiple calendars and contingencies for the next school year in case another spike in COVID-19 cases occurs. All public schools in the state finished the 2019-20 school year with at-home distance learning to prevent spread of the coronavirus. [The Oklahoman]

COVID-19 infections rise inside two federal lockups in Oklahoma: There are nearly 100 COVID-19 positive prisoners and 3 positive employees inside two federal lockups in Oklahoma. The Federal Transfer Center in Oklahoma City has 50 prisoners infected with the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. Meanwhile, CI Great Plains, a private prison for federal detainees in Hinton, has identified 42 prisoners with the illness. The two facilities are holding a total of nearly 3,000 prisoners. [KOSU] The Federal Transfer Center in Oklahoma City ranks eighth out of 112 Bureau of Prisons facilities in confirmed inmate COVID-19 cases. [The Oklahoman] OK Policy and other Oklahoma organizations have urged officials to take action to manage the serious threat of a COVID-19 outbreak in correctional facilities

Health department: State quadruples testing in May, positive results drop below 4%: The Oklahoma State Department of Health more than quadrupled its COVID-19 testing in May, delivering results on over 90,000 specimens as the rate of positive cases dropped to its lowest point since the pandemic began, according to Oklahoma State Health Department leaders. [The Oklahoman]

How does Oklahoma count coronavirus recoveries? It’s not an exact science: As Oklahoma approaches the third phase of the governor’s plan to reopen the state, it’s unclear how long the novel coronavirus will linger in the state and how many lives the disease will take. But many people want information about a less-cited statistic: How many people are recovering? The Oklahoma State Department of Health reports confirmed cases daily, along with an estimate of how many people have recovered from the disease. The figure isn’t based on those no longer experiencing symptoms — the agency considers someone recovered when they are not hospitalized or dead, and they’re 14 days past their initial positive test or onset of symptoms. [The Frontier]

Coronavirus in Oklahoma daily update: 41 new cases; 4 new deaths: Oklahoma’s number of positive COVID-19 cases now stands at 6,270, according to the Oklahoma State Department of Health. [The Oklahoman] Visit for the latest COVID-19 numbers in Oklahoma.

State Government News

DHS to close half of its brick-and-mortar facilities: The Department of Human Services plans to close half of its brick-and-mortar facilities, but it will not cut employees or services, the agency’s director said Thursday. The agency has 92 offices, warehouses and storage spaces, said Justin Brown, DHS director. About half will be closed, he said. Most are leased by the agency, but the state-owned facilities will be sent to surplus, Brown said. [Tulsa World]

Oklahoma weekly first-time jobless claims hold steady after 4% decline; totals still well above pre-pandemic levels: For the third consecutive week, first-time jobless claims for unemployment insurance benefits held steady at about 32,000 filings, a 4% decline from the prior week, yet still 16 times the typical number filed pre-COVID-19. [Tulsa World] The number of initial claims for unemployment benefits filed with the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission for the week ending May 23 continues to reflect the effect of business closures due to the COVID-19 and oil industry crises. [Journal Record]

Initiative petition on redistricting clears one hurdle, but faces unclear future: The wording of an initiative petition calling for a public vote on the creation of a Citizens’ Independent Redistricting Commission is legally adequate, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled Wednesday. That doesn’t mean Oklahomans will necessarily get to vote on the issue in November. In fact, what happens next is up in the air due to COVID-19. [The Oklahoman]

Lawmaker plans to revive occupational license proposal: A state senator who championed a bill to make it easier for people with occupational licenses issued in other states to begin work in Oklahoma said he’ll revive the measure next year after time ran out for it to achieve a final vote in the waning days of this year’s pandemic-shortened legislative session. [Journal Record]

Column: Test-driving REAL ID: In early May, the Department of Public Safety asked if I’d be interested in obtaining an advanced copy of the federally compliant driver license for $25 as part of the first phase of a pilot program. As DPS Capt. Randy Rogers put it: “We’re trying to solve issues and bugs before we get into the full rollout.” More than 600,000 Oklahomans are expected to apply for a Real ID before October 2021. That’s when residents will need a federally complaint license to hop onto planes and enter military bases or other federal facilities. [Janelle Stecklein / CNHI

Criminal Justice News

Angered and devastated’: Pastors, other leaders in Tulsa’s black community react to George Floyd death in Minnesota: In uniting to condemn the handling of a Minnesota man’s arrest that ended in his death this week, some of Tulsa’s black pastors and other leaders are calling for justice and for the nation to demand better of its police. [Tulsa World]

Bill settles insurance woes threatening the Oklahoma County Jail Trust: Finding insurance coverage for the Oklahoma County Jail Trust has proven near impossible, but a bill recently signed by Gov. Kevin Stitt should remove that hurdle. House Bill 2668, which did not receive much fanfare when it was pushed through the Legislature at the end of session, clarifies existing law to explicitly allow counties with over 600,000 residents and a trust running the county jail to pay for judgments from lawsuits against the jail through local property tax rolls. [The Oklahoman]

Economy & Business News

Survey: Few businesses spared during COVID-19 pandemic: A survey of companies involved in the energy industry in Oklahoma revealed that more than half expect failures to occur if per-barrel oil prices hover around the $30 mark for more than a year. The survey of businesses in sectors ranging from energy to retail trade to manufacturing was conducted by the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City. Results were released this week. It reflected, among other things, that the COVID-19 pandemic has pounded the state’s economy from top to bottom, with few if any businesses spared. [Journal Record]

Tulsa impact to national American Airlines’ cuts in management staff to materialize in coming months: While American Airlines on Thursday announced plans to reduce management and support staff (MSS) nationally by 30%, it is not immediately clear how that will affect Tech Ops-Tulsa, the airline’s largest maintenance facility. [Tulsa World]

Gov. Kevin Stitt and local officials make pitch for Tulsa during meeting with Elon Musk: Some state and local officials, including Gov. Kevin Stitt, got a chance to make their case for Tesla in Tulsa at a dinner in Florida this week with Elon Musk. Musk and the Tulsans were guests of National Aeronautics and Space Administration Administrator Jim Bridenstine for Wednesday’s planned launch of a SpaceX rocket carrying two NASA astronauts into space. [Tulsa World]

Navistar and IC Bus come to terms with Tulsa on new 20-year lease: Ending a months-long impasse, the city of Tulsa and Navistar/IC Bus of Oklahoma on Thursday announced a new 20-year agreement that will keep the bus manufacturer and 1,600 jobs at Tulsa International Airport. [Tulsa World]

Education News

Senator says he was asked to delete Epic Charter School emails: A state senator says he was asked to delete emails by the official who oversees the Oklahoma Virtual Charter School Board weeks after she downplayed her communication with him to an attorney representing Epic virtual charter school. [The Frontier]

State board issues final rejection to proposed new charter school in Tulsa: A last-ditch effort at sponsorship by proponents of a new charter school as part of a yet-to-be constructed housing development in northwest Tulsa failed on Thursday. One Oklahoma State Board of Education member said he could not support the idea because it “feels like state-sponsored gentrification.” [Tulsa World]

General News

Cherokee Nation announces $332 million spending package for COVID-19 aid: The Cherokee Nation announced its first spending plan for some of the $8 billion in federal COVID-19 relief funds, with $332 million going to the tribe’s operations, safety precautions, economic recovery and health programs. [Tulsa World]

Tribes awarded federal grants to combat COVID-19: Four Oklahoma tribes have been awarded federal grants totaling nearly $1.2 million to help combat COVID-19 in rural tribal areas, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced Thursday. The Cheyenne & Arapaho Tribes and Cherokee Nation each will receive $300,000, the Quapaw Tribe of Oklahoma will receive $299,816 and the Chickasaw Nation has been awarded $295,316. The grants are part of $15 million in grants awarded to 52 tribes located in 20 states. [The Oklahoman]

Choctaw Nation will enter Phase II of COVID-19 response plan: Following review of key health indicators with our health and emergency management professionals, CNO leadership has determined to move into Phase II of the CNO Recovery Plan beginning Friday, May 29. During Phase II, additional CNO businesses and operations will begin to reopen. This includes re-opening the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma Headquarters in Durant to the public on May 29. [CNHI]

Opinion: Can politicians give us the best outcome?: To be religiously avoided is language or assertions that risk the general public interpreting what is said as both good reason to question the veracity of the scientific or medical community, and to view those communities as the obstruction to getting the economy back on track. [Op-Ed / Tulsa World]

Opinion: Giving blood is the least I can do: Donating blood products has no significant down side for the donor, and there is nowhere else the medical community can acquire these products. It is quick and easy, won’t make you sick if you are healthy, and will – I repeat WILL – save lives. [Opinion / Ada News]

Oklahoma Local News

  • Man who stabbed officer fatally shot, OSBI says; incident near McAlester under investigation [Tulsa World]
  • OKC Municipal Court to start phased reopening [The Oklahoman]
  • Masks to be required for entry into Tulsa federal courthouse [Tulsa World]
  • Phase 2 begins tomorrow for Reopen Norman plan [Norman Transcript]
  • Payne County Commission approves early Phase 3 re-opening [CNHI]
  • Yes on 802 campaign makes stop in Duncan [Duncan Banner]

Quote of the Day

“COVID-19, in both the state and federal system, has exposed many cracks in our social safety nets. It has shown that prisons are not only largely ineffective at deterring crime but they’re also ineffective at keeping communities safe. It’s evident that they also pose a public health risk. So, I think at both the state and federal levels, officials should be working to reduce the prison populations to manageable levels.”

-Kris Steele, director of criminal justice advocacy group Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform [The Oklahoman]

Number of the Day


Percentage of Latino Americans who said in April that they or someone in their household had experienced a job or wage loss due to the coronavirus outbreak, compared with 44% for Black Americans and 38% of White adults. [Pew Research Center

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

3 principles for an anti-racist, equitable state response to COVID-19 — and a stronger recovery:  COVID-19’s effects have underscored the ways our nation’s history of racism, bias, and discrimination are embedded in our health, social, and economic systems. People of color are experiencing disproportionately more infections and hospitalizations — and among Black people, highly disproportionate death rates — with people of color also overrepresented in jobs that are at higher infection risk now and in the jobs hardest hit economically. Shaping these outcomes are structural barriers like wealth and income disparities, inadequate access to health care, and racial discrimination built into the health system. States therefore have critical policy choices to make: they can repeat and exacerbate these inequities, which also will damage the economy, or they can set another course — toward anti-racist, equitable, and inclusive communities and an economic recovery that extends to all people. [Center for Budget and Policy Priorities

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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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