TPS Mother, Librarian Speaks Out On District’s Decision To Restart In-Person Learning

A librarian is speaking on both sides of the debate on the return to in-person learning at Tulsa Public Schools. 

McLain High School Library Media Specialist Michelle Stevenson said she has a unique perspective as a TPS mother and employee for almost a decade.

Stevenson said she is still in shock following Tuesday's decision by the board of education to bring Pre-K and elementary students back in-person four days a week with distance learning on Wednesdays starting Nov. 9. 

First through third grade students would return on Nov. 16. The board later added that 4th, 5th and some 6th-grade classes (if 6th-grade classes are held in an elementary school building) would return on Nov. 30.

Stevenson, a mother of three children herself, said in-person is better due to kids having more social interaction, one-on-one instruction and, in some cases, more food security. 

"There is every reason in the world to want to go back. It’s just not the time," Stevenson said. "I understand parents wanting to go back because in-person (learning) would certainly be better. My son said it himself: He doesn’t like online. In-person is better, and I agree with him, but we have to do it when it’s safe. We have to have the right precautions in place, and we don’t have that right now.”

Due to the Tulsa Health Department’s numbers indicating COVID-19 cases in the county are on the rise, Stevenson said she doesn't feel the board thought the decision all the way through and was surprised when they voted on a different plan then the hybrid format Superintendent Dr. Deborah Gist recommended.

Stevenson said she feels the board did not take into account the large elementary school class sizes, the well-being of elderly teachers, substitute teachers and overall resources to keep the younger students and teachers safe.

"I am really upset for them [teachers] because they deserve better,” Stevenson said. “Their kids are not guinea pigs. The elementary schools shouldn't be the testing grounds.”

Stevenson wanted to share a message ahead of the board's meeting Monday when they will vote for grades 6 through 12 on whether to return to in-person learning as well. 

"I would hope that you taking the time to do your homework this week and look at the numbers and consider the bigger picture," Stevenson said. "I also hope that if you vote ‘yes’ to go back to in-person that your name is at the top of every sub list. Put your money where your mouth is."

If the board votes high schools to return to school, Stevenson and other teachers have a tough decision to make.

"I don’t want to quit. I want to be in class with my kids but, if I am concerned about my students' safety, I have to make that decision,” Stevenson said. “As much as we talk about teaching being a calling: Really, at the end of the day, it’s also a job and I can’t sacrifice my family for my job.” 

News on 6 reached out to TPS for comment Saturday night and did not hear back.

Monday's board meeting will be held virtually starting at 4 p.m.