In The Know: Technical issues impact virus count | Parent concerns drive Epic Virtual Charter growth | Education advocates outraged over CARES dollars for private schools

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

Technical issues behind recent reports of fewer new coronavirus cases in Oklahoma, state says: Following two days of a dramatic decline in the daily number of new coronavirus cases in Oklahoma, the Oklahoma State Department of Health confirmed Monday that its data was not accurate due to “technical” problems the agency is experiencing. [The Frontier] Outdated data systems that often rely on fax machines and manual data entry are partly to blame, the agency said. A similar technical glitch that occurred June 5 and June 18 was resolved in about 24 hours. [AP News] The agency also says they expect a spike in the number of reported cases once the issue is resolved. [Journal Record]

‘Epic is prepared for this, our district is not’: As districts work to reopen, parents flee to virtual schools: Epic Virtual Charter school in the online public school that has grown to more than 32,000 students in less than a decade, which includes a blended program of in-person and online education. The virtual school could see its largest single-year enrollment increase at a time when in-person learning at many school districts is in doubt. Officials say enrollment topped 1,000 new students each day last week and project a 57 percent increase this coming school year, which would easily make it the state’s largest school system. [The Frontier]

Education advocates outraged over spending plan: Oklahoma education advocates Monday panned the governor’s plan to spend $10 million of the state’s discretionary federal COVID-19 aid on $6,500 stipends for private school families. Education advocates said public schools are struggling to safely reopen, obtain personal protective gear and cleaning supplies and ensure students have access to the internet for virtual learning. However, Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt plans to spend nearly a quarter of his discretionary relief funds on just 5 percent of the state’s school-age children. [CNHI] The funds would target low-income families who have suffered a job loss or other economic impact as a result of COVID-19. [AP News

‘A very dark feeling’: Hundreds camp out in Oklahoma unemployment lines: In Oklahoma, one of the poorest states, unemployment — which reached a record 14.7 percent in April — has pushed many to the point of desperation, with savings depleted, cars repossessed and homes sold for cash. Even though the unemployment rate dropped to 6.6 percent in June, the backlog has created unprecedented delays. Oklahoma had approved 235,000 of about 590,000 filed claims by June 21 — a total $2.4 billion payout, far more than in previous years. About 6,000 state claims are pending. [Washington Post]

Health News

For rural hospitals, Medicaid expansion acts as shot in the arm: The Fairview Regional Medical Center has mostly been surviving off of sales tax revenue from the city of Fairview. About 9% of Fairview Regional Medical Center’s patients are categorized as charity care — people who can’t afford to pay. Now that Medicaid is being expanded in Oklahoma after a tight statewide vote at the end of June, he says hospitals like his will care for more people who previously couldn’t afford it. [KOSU]

Employers not required to notify staff, patrons of positive COVID cases, but it is encouraged: When an employee tests positive for COVID-19, what are businesses required to report, if anything? As it turns out, the law doesn’t require much from employers. [The Oklahoman]

Citizen Potawatomi Nation requiring face masks: Citing the high number of coronavirus cases in Pottawatomie County, the Citizen Potawatomi Nation will require face masks and social distancing measures for people at businesses within the tribe’s jurisdiction beginning today, Monday July 20. [KOSU]

Hillcrest spokesperson says Tulsa nurse practitioner has died, reportedly of COVID-19: A nurse practitioner at Hillcrest Medical Center in Tulsa has died, according to a statement from a Hillcrest spokesperson. Multiple social media posts appearing to be from colleagues and a fundraising campaign appearing to be created by the woman’s husband say it was due to complications from the novel coronavirus. [Public Radio Tulsa]

State Government News

Cherokee Nation chief says leaders still working toward agreement on jurisdiction: Leaders of the Cherokee, Chickasaw and Choctaw nations said Monday they need more time to discuss with their citizens how to allocate jurisdiction in the wake of a momentous U.S. Supreme Court decision but that they were still working toward an agreement to present to the state’s congressional delegation. [The Oklahoman]

  • McGirt fallout: Cherokee citizens protest agreement with state of Oklahoma outside Tribal Council committee meeting [Tulsa World]
  • CN chief, councilor butt heads during committee meeting [Tahlequah Daily Press]

Stitt forms panel to advise state after Supreme Court ruling: Gov. Kevin Stitt on Monday issued an executive order to form the Oklahoma Commission on Cooperative Sovereignty to address concerns and make recommendations to the state and Congress after the U.S. Supreme Court decisions in McGirt v. Oklahoma and Sharp v. Murphy. [Journal Record]

  • Stitt named Devon Energy co-founder Larry Nichols to be chairman of the Oklahoma Commission on Cooperative Sovereignty. Other commission members include both former and current lawmakers, as well as those representing energy, farm and real estate interests. No tribal representatives were included on the board named by Stitt, although a press release from his office notes that one tribal representative may be included along with a representative from the Attorney General’s Office and the District Attorneys Council. [Tulsa World]

McCall promises not to defund police at Law Enforcement Appreciation Day: Speaker of the House Charles McCall Monday told local law enforcement members during a law enforcement appreciation luncheon that the Oklahoma Legislature has no intentions of defunding the police. [The Oklahoman]

Federal Government News

Horn not ready to back extension of $600 unemployment payment: Rep. Kendra Horn expressed reservations on Monday about extending the $600-per-week federal unemployment benefit set to expire this month, saying lawmakers needed to help people pay bills without creating a disincentive to work. Horn, D-Oklahoma City, who voted in May against a House bill that would have extended the $600-per-week payments through January, said the next relief bill must be bipartisan, related to COVID-19 and fiscally responsible. [The Oklahoman] Horn said she wants to see something focused on small business and local government support, virus response, and extending the enhanced federal unemployment benefit that expires at the end of the week. [Public Radio Tulsa]

Criminal Justice News

Protesters arrested outside Oklahoma County DA’s office: Several protesters who want Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater to reopen an investigation into the 2019 killing of a teenager by police were arrested after holding a sit-in outside Prater’s office. [AP News] The protesters are upset with Prater both for filing terrorism charges against some demonstrators and for clearing the Edmond police officers involved in the fatal shooting of a naked Black teenager last year. [The Oklahoman] Oklahoma County activists have called for his resignation, citing “excessive charges” against Black Lives Matter protesters. [Black Wall Street Times]

Tulsa selects firm to evaluate Tulsa’s community policing efforts, develop measurable performance goals: The city of Tulsa has selected a firm to evaluate its community policing efforts as well as develop steps to advance and measure performance, it announced Monday. CNA Corp., a nationally accredited policing firm, will contract with the city to begin work in the fall to build off the 77 recommendations made by the Tulsa Commission on Community Policing in March 2017. [Tulsa World]

Tulsa Police Chief says no community input will be considered in development of new use-of-force policy: Presenting the results of a research study analyzing use-of-force by the Tulsa Police Department over several years to the Tulsa City Council, TPD Chief Wendell Franklin said that the public will have no say in the development of any new use-of-force policy. [Public Radio Tulsa]

Economy & Business News

Walmart customers react to mask-wearing requirement: Across the Oklahoma City metropolitan area, Walmart customers on Monday reacted to the nationwide retailer’s mandate that all customers wear masks in an attempt to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Walmart joined a growing list of other major stores requiring shoppers to mask up. [The Oklahoman]

With masks and fragile economy, restaurants seek some help: Oklahoma City Council members voting in favor of a mask ordinance on Friday said they were opting for the most business-friendly, least restrictive method presented to them to curb the spread of COVID-19. [Journal Record]

Despite virus setbacks, aerospace industry expects growth: Oklahoma has not escaped this year’s severe turbulence in the aerospace industry, aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic, but the state seems to be managing better than most, several industry executives said Monday. [Journal Record]

Op-Ed: Pandemic brings about new design philosophy: This spring, a working group within The American Institute of Architects was tasked with determining the impact of the virus on design and the built environment. [Op-Ed / Tulsa World]

Education News

State Department of Education encourages Oklahoma teachers to be ready for challenging year: During the agency’s annual summer conference, Executive Director of School Design and Innovation Aaron Espolt shared results of a national survey showing only about one in three parents is at all likely to expect less from their students this year after last school year was upended by the coronavirus pandemic, and nearly three in four are confident their kids will be prepared for college, an increase from last year. [Public Radio Tulsa]

Norman parents push back against in-person instruction: More than 2,000 parents are asking Norman school district officials to delay the start of the 2020-21 school year, citing “grave concerns” over the district’s back-to-school plan. [The Oklahoman] While Norman Public Schools has unveiled many of the major points of its plans for the fall — including a mandatory facial covering policy for anyone in school buildings or buses — the district has yet to settle on many details, including what a threshold for shutting down schools again will look like. [Norman Transcript]

State Board Of Ed to discuss possibility of mask requirement for schools: At a meeting scheduled for Thursday, the Oklahoma State Board of Education is expected to discuss the possibility of implementing a mask requirement for schools that reopen for in-person learning this fall. [Public Radio Tulsa]

Tulsa school board looks for flexibility in upcoming school year’s policies, schedule: The Tulsa school board on Monday discussed building flexibility into several policy areas, such as attendance and grading, for the coming school year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Tulsa Public Schools is requesting the flexibility, some of which also must be approved by the State Board of Education, in case the district must transition to distance learning at any point during the 2020-21 school year. [Tulsa World]

Enrollment began Friday for Tulsa Public Schools’ Tulsa Virtual Academy: Tulsa Public Schools have been out for the summer since COVID-19 brought an uneasy end to the academic year, but district leaders, teachers and staff have been working “around the clock” to figure out what classes will look like for the next one. [Tulsa World] Students in Tulsa Virtual Academy will continue to be students in their current schools, but will complete their studies virtually. If families choose this option, they will have the opportunity to return to in-person learning at the semester break if their preference changes. [Tulsa Kids]

OU requires COVID-19 tests for campus residents: All students moving into campus housing at the University of Oklahoma must take a COVID-19 test before arrival. [The Oklahoman]

University of Tulsa launches national search for new president: Six months after President Gerard Clancy stepped aside for medical reasons, the University of Tulsa launched a nationwide search Monday for a replacement who can “be agile and adapt” to a rapidly changing world in higher education, officials said. Provost Janet Levit has been serving as interim president and she endorsed the national search Monday. [Tulsa World]

Op-Ed: Seeking ways to safely reopen schoolhouse doors: Oklahoma has no business throwing open the doors to in-class public school instruction next month. We blew our chance to open safely and on time when, in May, national and state leadership prioritized economic health over physical health. We now are paying a dear price for that blunder. [Arnold Hamilton Op-Ed / Journal Record]

General News

Petition seeks change to branding of Eskimo Joe’s, Mexico Joe’s in Stillwater: An online petition is advocating a change to the branding of Eskimo Joe’s and the Hispanic spinoff restaurant Mexico Joe’s, calling it racially insensitive. [Tulsa World]

Next steps in search for unmarked Tulsa Race Massacre burials to be discussed Tuesday: Researchers expect Tuesday to reveal the next steps in their search for unmarked burials in Oaklawn Cemetery from Tulsa’s 1921 Race Massacre. [Tulsa World] Editorial: Mass graves may reveal secrets to what happened 99 years ago [Editorial / Oklahoma Eagle]

Miami Nation: Forced away once, forced away again: A history of the Miami Nation, which numbered about 24,000 at the turn of the 18th century and today counts around 5,000 tribe members. [NonDoc]

These stories won awards, so make sure you read them: Results from the Society of Professional Journalists annual awards were announced Friday, serving as a reminder of the hard work from media professionals from around the state. [NonDoc

Op-Ed: This year is our opportunity to become better than we were: The tragedy of the pandemic, the loss of lives and jobs, has dealt life-changing blows that make it difficult to see a positive future. I try to remind myself, however, that growth and change come from discomfort. [Leigh Goodson Op-Ed / Tulsa World]

Oklahoma Local News

  • Group behind recall effort calls on Norman mayor to resign [The Oklahoman]
  • Worker in Edmond office of court clerk tests positive for COVID-19 [The Oklahoman]
  • Black Tulsa pastor says he’s filing charges against racist protesters [Oklahoma Eagle]
  • Judge: Video showing shooting of two Tulsa police officers won’t be released for now [Tulsa World]
  • Tulsa County distributes about $3 million in CARES Act money [Tulsa World]
  • Payne County receives CARES Act reimbursement [Stillwater News Press]

Quote of the Day

“I hate diverting funds from my local public school but what are my other options besides sacrificing my family’s health?”

-Leslie Bonebreak, a Moore parent to two elementary-age children, about the choice to enroll her children in Epic Virtual Charter school due to virus concerns [The Frontier]

Number of the Day


Percentage of Oklahoma children — about 324,000 — who live in single-parent families.


See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

We have to focus on opening schools, not bars: The way states lifted social distancing restrictions imposed to fight the coronavirus sadly demonstrates our priorities. Officials let bars, restaurants and gyms open, despite warnings from public health experts that these environments pose the greatest risk for spreading the disease. Yet political leaders seem to have paid scant attention to safely reopening schools. The consequences of those backward priorities — COVID-19 rampaging through states that reopened quickly — make it even more vital that we extensively prepare to reopen classrooms as safely as possible this fall. [Op-Ed / 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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