Oklahoma City schools require masks, with opt-out provisions
August 13, 2021
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The Oklahoma City school district will require students and staff to wear masks starting next week, with provisions allowing them to opt out of the requirement, the district's superintendent said Friday.
Also, school employees with proof of being fully vaccinated by Nov. 15 will receive a $1,000 stipend, according to Superintendent Sean McDaniel.
McDaniel said he issued the requirement days after the start of school on Monday because the number of virus cases jumped from four the first day of classes to 119 on Thursday.
McDaniel also said he does not believe the requirement violates a state law banning mask mandates in schools because he, not the school board, issued the directive.
"I think I'm actually upholding the law by taking this route, because (the law) is specific to school boards," McDaniel said. "I believe that we have stayed within, certainly the spirit of the law and I believe also the letter of the law."
McDaniel said he has not discussed the matter with Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt, who issued a statement supporting the district and Santa Fe South, a public charter school that, on Wednesday, adopted a similar mask requirement that includes opt-out provisions.
"I appreciate that school districts like Santa Fe Charter Schools and Oklahoma City Public Schools are respecting parents' rights to decide what is best for the health of their children and opt out of mask requirements if they choose," Stitt said.
Masks will be required except for those who submit religious, medical or approved personal objections to mask wearing, McDaniel said.
"We know that kids, teachers, families have things that are going on their lives that might prohibit them from wearing a mask," McDaniel said, citing potential health or religious exemptions.
McDaniel said he could not cite a personal objection that would be approved, but that each would be considered on a case by case basis by the district's human resources department.
Defiance to anti-mask laws is popping up in other red states that have imposed such bans, particularly in blue-leaning urban areas, including Phoenix, Dallas, Houston, Austin, San Antonio and Broward County, Florida.
Oklahoma City and Santa Fe South are the only two of Oklahoma's 546 districts known to have adopted any form of mask requirement, according to Oklahoma State Department of Education spokeswoman Carrie Burkhart.
A lawsuit was filed Thursday challenging Oklahoma's ban on mask requirements and the Tulsa school board has agreed to allow its attorneys to join in any such lawsuit, although court records do not show they have done so.