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Oklahoma lawmakers debate limiting virtual school days except during emergencies

An Epic Virtual Charter School student in Oklahoma City uses her computer as her classroom.
Emily Wendler
A student in Oklahoma City uses her computer as her classroom.

Oklahoma lawmakers are considering limiting virtual school days in Oklahoma.

Senate Bill 1768, proposed by Sen. Kristen Thompson, R-Edmond, would limit traditional public schools and charter schools from taking virtual days unless they are faced with inclement weather, staffing shortages or building maintenance issues.

Thompson said school officials are abusing the lack of guidance from the state on when and why virtual days should be used.

“We've got schools that have 50, 30, 32, 39, 30, 32, 34 virtual days built in,” Thompson said. “And we know that in-person learning with our teachers is what's best.”

Sens. Carri Hicks, D-Oklahoma City, and Jo Anna Dossett, D-Tulsa, said they worry the bill would stifle innovative uses of technology and circumvent the local control of school boards.

“I do agree that in-person learning is best,” Hicks said. “But I also believe in local control. As I was receiving communications about this particular legislation, I asked the parents: have you talked to your school board member? Every single one of them said no.”

She said it’s the responsibility of state lawmakers to help their constituents advocate for their positions at the local level.

“I feel very well represented in my local school district and I understand the thoughtfulness that goes into building out a school calendar that meets my children’s needs,” Hicks said.

Thompson said not everyone feels represented by their school district leadership.

Sen. Lonnie Paxton, R-Tuttle, is a co-author of the bill. He said the state should step in to ensure Oklahomans who send their children to public school get what they pay for with taxes — in-person learning.

The bill passed its committee hearing with a 9-2 party-line vote and now moves on to the full Senate.

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Corrected: February 16, 2024 at 8:51 AM CST
An earlier version of this story misidentified where Sen. Joanna Dossett, D-Tulsa, resides.
Lionel Ramos covers state government at KOSU. He joined the station in January 2024.
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