May 25—Norman Public Schools will end its mask mandate late Thursday afternoon, making masking optional, though "strongly recommended," at high school graduations, summer school and, for now, the fall semester.
NPS' Board of Education voted 4-1 Monday to move to optional but recommended masking for students, teachers and staff at the end of this week.
The district's mask mandate, in place since the start of the school year, ends as school lets out for the summer Thursday, in time for Norman High's 7 p.m. Thursday commencement and Norman North's 7 p.m. Friday ceremony.
"We believe that with just these few days remaining, it's in the best interest of our students and staff to finish the school year in a consistent way," Superintendent Nick Migliorino said Monday.
The decision also means masks are recommended, but optional during district summer school and activities. For now, the decision also applies to the return to school in the fall, though board members noted they may re-evaluate the optional masking policy during the summer, depending on COVID conditions.
The district will keep its social distancing and enhanced cleaning policies, the superintendent said.
"We will continue to adamantly encourage all students and staff to follow our CDC guidelines regarding masks — it is important to note that the recent updates to these guidelines relaxing mask recommendations apply to fully-vaccinated individuals," Migliorino said.
NPS follows the Norman City Council's May 17 vote to drop its citywide masking policy and other COVID ordinances, along with the University of Oklahoma's May 19 announcement that fully vaccinated individuals will not be required to mask or socially distance in most on-campus situations.
Since the district has no way of policing who is vaccinated and who is not, the new policy will be more of an honor system, board member Linda Sexton noted.
"We have to trust people's word in that, because it's still out there," Sexton said, "it's still a contagious disease, people are still dying — not in huge numbers right now ... but just a reminder it's an honor system."
While the board did approve the policy, several members also asked the district to consider creating a masking zone at this week's graduation ceremonies for those who feel safer surrounded by masks.
New case numbers at district schools — data shared weekly by the district in a Monday report — have remained relatively flat over recent weeks, with intermittent spikes in quarantine numbers at some sites.
Migliorino said he's been pleased so far with vaccination rates. While NPS can't officially gauge exactly how much of its staff, student and teacher population is vaccinated, clinics and surveys show a portion of the picture.
At a May 14 vaccination event for students 12 and older, the district filled all available appointments, vaccinating 420 students, a district spokesperson said. Now that the FDA has authorized the Pfizer vaccine for use for those ages 12 and up, that portion of NPS' student body is able to get vaccinated elsewhere, as well.
While the district has surveyed teachers and staff on vaccination, a district spokesperson did not share the survey results by deadline Monday night.
Some board members did express concerns that students under 12 still cannot receive the vaccine, though Sexton pointed out that vaccines for younger children are being tested now.
The New York Times reports that Pfizer plans to ask for emergency authorization of its vaccine for 2- to 11-year-olds as soon as September, while vaccines for babies and toddlers will likely be ready by early 2022.
The board also approved Kimberly Garrett as principal at Norman North at the end of its Monday meeting. Garrett will replace Kristi Gray, who will move to the district's director of gifted education, advanced placement and college and career readiness position.
With the board's approval Monday, Ethan Davis will be the new principal at Whittier Middle School, and Sarah Adams will be the new principal at Truman Elementary.
Emma Keith is the editor of The Transcript, where she covers Norman Public Schools and the University of Oklahoma. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or at @emma_ckeith.