Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt in a press conference on reopening schools in Oklahoma.
Published 07/31/2020 | Reading Time 4 min 24 sec
By Nehemiah D. Frank, Founder and Editor of Chief of The Black Wall Street Times and Delegate for the National Parents Union
Oklahomans, I’m gonna keep this one-hundred: Gov. Kevin Stitt doesn’t give a d*mn about your kids’ health or the safety of your family members. He is committed to reopening school buildings to all students regardless of if your child or family member has a preexisting health condition or not. This is far from acceptable.
Consider this: Oklahoma has the second-highest rate of uninsured citizens in the nation — 14.2%.
Like President Donald Trump often does during his press conferences, Stitt only delivers positive facts to justify his decisions. I find this type of selfish behavior ruthlessly dangerous for everyone in the entire State.
Stitt began his ‘let’s put our kids in a punch bowl’ crusade quoting only positive COVID-19 studies:
“According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children are less likely to be sympathetic or have severe cases of COVID-19 and may be less likely to spread this virus,” Stitt announced at his Thursday press conference.
While it’s true that children are less likely to experience COVID-19 symptoms, minors are still contracting the virus. Stitt then tried blending his claim into that same sentence: ‘and may be less likely to spread this virus.’ The operative words here being “may be.”
When dealing with the lives of young people and families, using such an ambiguous word like “may” is not only irrational but irresponsible during a killer pandemic.
Stitt shouldn’t be wishing or hoping that a novel virus doesn’t spread to the grandmother who is picking up her 10-year-old grandchild who contracted COVID-19. Because if he is wrong, he’ll surely have blood on his hands.
Here is a fact to consider that was recently published in Smithsonian Magazine: A South Korea study found that children between the ages of 10 and 19 spread the virus as frequently as adults. Dr. Anthony Facui agrees. Stitt must obviously be speaking of elementary students who are less likely to contract and spread the virus.
Moreover, the study found “households with the older children [between the ages of 10 and 19] had the highest rate of spread to other members—18.6 percent — of any age group while households with younger children had the least spread, just 5.3 percent.” The study was published on the US Center for Disease Control’s website.
Stitt’s press conference was extremely biased, only inviting those to speak who agreed with his politics.
His views, however, are in opposition to Joy Hofmeister, the Oklahoma Superintendent of Public Instruction.
Last week, Superintendent Joy Hofmeister, introduced a safety health plan to reopen schools developed in conjunction with the State’s Department of Health recommendations. Hofmeister, along with two State education board members, Carlisha Williams-Bradly and Kurt Bollenbach, were in support of making the jointly-developed plan mandatory with the intent of protecting students, school staff, and families. Unfortunately, the other four board members voted to make the plan optional for the districts — regardless of how high COVID-19 cases grow in school districts across the State.
In synchronization with Stitt, Justin Brown, the Secretary of Human Services for the State of Oklahoma, made a case for schools to reopen as well. Brown’s reasons were seemingly rooted in the well-being of Oklahoma students. He stated facts that domestic violence calls are 16% higher, childhood hunger has increased from 1 in 4 to 1 in 3, and that child abuse calls were down significantly from previous years. Brown contributed the low reporting to teachers not being able to see and report students experiencing abuse or neglect. “Hundreds of kids remain at home in unsafe conditions with nobody watching,” Brown stated. He closed, declaring that many of the children impacted by these adverse issues are from “low-income and minority communities”.
While I agree that many children are in unsupportive and un-nurturing environments, it’s also important to consider that, regardless of ethnicity, many grandparents are the caretakers of their grandchildren. And opening physical school buildings to all students without a mandatory and uninformed health plan is inviting a Russian roulette of a social experiment — one we will not be able to reverse once played out.
For smaller school populations with modest class sizes, if COVID-19 is trending downward in their communities, returning to school is a real possibility; however, school districts, regardless of size, shouldn’t be returning to physical school buildings with climbing COVID-19 infection rates in their area. Moreover, for school districts with majority Black and Brown student-populations — communities that have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19 — their school leadership should only seek advice from medical professionals who have an eye for spotting racial biases in medical advice.
And I am disappointed in the executive director of Crossover Preparatory, Philip Abode, for supplying his presence as a ‘Black face’ for Stitt’s political agenda. Nevertheless, that’s expected since Abode was one of the so-called community’s ‘Black leaders’ to represent North Tulsa to the Trump Administration during the Juneteenth weekend at a private meeting with Vice President Mike Pence.
The Trump administration has been anti-mask since day one. Abode should be seeking advice from Dr. Jabraan Pasha, who lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Dr. Pasha is one of those medical professionals whose advice is to be trusted and who looks much like the students at Crossover Prep in North Tulsa. Furthermore, I’m quite sure that Dr. Pasha understands the racially biased decision making taking place without the consideration of how Stitt and others’ racially biased and inconsiderate decisions will affect the health of the Black community at large.
As an educator, I surely understand the need for Black students to be in school. For the past years, I have not only taught, but I have attended school board meetings, served on educational committees, attended national educational conferences. Moreover, I gave a TEDx Talk on the importance of literacy for Black children at the University of Tulsa, and wrote dozens of articles both locally and at the national level about education inequality and inequity.
Hence, I am concerned about educational outcomes for Black students. But I also hold fast to the “it takes a village to raise a child” proverb. So the question that continues to resound in my mind and the one which I leave you to ponder as I close is this: What is a village without the wisdom of the grandparent or educator who succumbs to the virus because we as a State didn’t choose the best precautionary measures to reopen school buildings or continue improving virtual learning?
Why would parents and families take the advice from a governor who couldn’t demonstrate the necessary leadership to beat this virus? Why should parents and families take the advice from a governor who couldn’t even wear a mask at an indoor Trump rally when the CDC highly recommends mask-wearing, especially indoors?
Gov. Stitt may be rich as hell. But when it comes to commonsensical decision-making, he’s just not that bright.
Nehemiah D. Frank is the founder, executive editor, and director of The Black Wall Street Times, digital news media company that believes access is the new civil right. He’s also a freelance writer, appearing in TIME Magazine, Tulsa People, and Tulsa World. Frank graduated with a general studies degree from Harold Washington College in Chicago, IL, and a political science degree from Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, Oklahoma, and was a member and chapter president of the Phi Theta Kappa Honors Society. Today, he is a blogger for Education Post and Brightbeam, and a community advisory board member for the Tulsa World, Tulsa Press Club, and Tulsa’s Table. He is also a public school educator at a local community-led charter school and is a member of Superintendent Joy Hofmeister’s Education Task Force for Equity and Inclusion. In 2017, Frank became a Terence Crutcher Foundation honoree, a recipient of the 2017 METCares Foundation Community Impact Award, a 2018 Black Educators Fellow and gave a TED Talk at the University of Tulsa and as appeared on Dateline NBC.