A Call to Move Union Public Schools to Distance Learning for the Start of 2020-2021 year

A Call to Move Union Public Schools to Distance Learning for the Start of 2020-2021 year

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Julian Ober started this petition to Union public schools and

Dear Union School Board,

On August 10, 2020, Union’s School Board members voted to send students back to school during a global pandemic.This decision was made in spite of the superintendent's recommendation. COVID-19 has already taken friends, family, and loved ones. To open up the school while this virus is nowhere near under control, is reckless and irresponsible. Many surrounding schools of similar or lower student and staff populations have already made the educated decision to switch to distance learning programs for the start of the year. Across the US, the schools that already chose to start in-person in August faced closures soon after opening due to the fast spread of Covid-19 through its student and staff population. At Broken Arrow Public Schools, thirty-three of its staff members have already tested positive, and school has not even started. One of the zip codes in the Union district has the highest number of reported cases in the state: this makes it irreparably dangerous to send those students to school.    

As cases in Tulsa county continue to rise, Union must take action to protect the lives of students, teachers, and staff. It is imperative that Union follows the lead of other Tulsa area schools such as Tulsa Public, Jenks, Owasso, and Bixby who have elected to start the school year with distance learning.

The Risk: 

The in-person option will simply fail to adequately prevent the spread of COVID-19. With the current precautions in place at Union for returning to school in-person, there will be high spread of the virus among students and staff, leading to hospitalizations and deaths. As a result of Union’s large student population, social distancing will be impossible to enforce both in the classroom and hallways (as stated by Board President Heather McAdams last night). This virus may have a 99 percent survival rate, but the one percent should not be ignored. 160 Union students alone are estimated to die from this virus should the plan for in-person school go through. This is not even considering the number of staff members who could die and the various complications that arise from this virus. Union’s decision to begin on August 24 in-person is allowing for the loss of 160 students and countless members of the staff. As President McAdams said at the meeting, even if there was a 0.01% student death toll, at least 16 student lives would be lost. 16 out of 16,000 might not seem substantial but that is more than the amount of students killed in Columbine in 1999. Sixteen people who will have families and friends devastated if their loved one(s) never makes it home. Sixteen people who had lives and futures torn away from them because the school board took an unnecessary risk. As the coalition of Union High School students making this petition, we have to ask; could one of those be us? One of our friends? One of our favorite teachers or support staff members? Board members voting in favor of in-person have no idea what the rippling effects of this decision will look like nor do they know the emotional and mental toll it will put on a district that we love. 

Social Distancing and Masks: 

The aspect of social distancing and masks was brought up as a preventive measure that would ensure the safety of students, administration, and staff. However, social distancing is not applicable with current numbers of students at Union. Even with a certain section of students staying home, Union’s classrooms, hallways, and teacher to student ratio all point to there being no way of maintaining safety as stated by school board member Heather McAdams. 

Some of us did not even feel comfortable going to the board meeting last night because of COVID-19. There were hundreds of people in attendance and many wore their masks incorrectly or not at all. They took off their masks often or kept touching the masks and then their faces. How are we supposed to expect third-graders, or even highschoolers, to wear their masks correctly when parents and some Union staff can’t?

Excluding Class Choices: 

We appreciate the school board’s effort of adaptation by giving the choice of in person or virtual to parents and students. However, not all classes are offered virtually. For some students who have been working towards certain electives as well as advanced or AP classes, virtual is simply not an option because only limited classes are available. As students, we were given the option to change our classes, but it seems unfair to reconstruct our entire class choices because Union’s plan has made us feel unsafe. The in-person option brings a demanding decision between education and safety. Safety not just for ourselves but, more importantly, for other students and staff within the school, their families, and the whole community of Tulsa is a risk we can’t take just for the sake of normalcy. 

It was mentioned as well that students need in person learning for socializing and learning. As actual Union students who have learned and thrived within the district for years, we can say that what students need more is stability. Students can adapt to a new normal but constantly switching the way we are supposed to learn is not effective and will result in even greater gaps in knowledge. This district needs to put into place a plan that is sustainable. 

Additionally, in-person would be virtually the same as distance learning with the exception of being in the building and possibly exposed to the virus. After speaking with faculty who were on the reentry committee this summer we learned that students would be at their desks doing work on computers. There will not be labs, activities, small groups, partner work, projects etc. If we are face-to-face, we will basically do distance learning in the classroom. One teacher said “In fact, I think we can be more interactive on zoom.”


The Bottom Line: 

If Union started school through distance learning, the Tulsa area would have a chance to decrease the community spread of COVID-19, which would make it more likely that students could go to school in person longer when it is safe to do. The more cautious we are this semester the greater probability next semester will be more normal (Which would be greatly appreciated by the Class of 2021). Exponentially increasing community spread by starting school in person will only prolong the amount of time COVID-19 will be a barrier to opening up schools.

The decision of the board meeting was based on misconstrued evidence and cherry picked opinions that exclude staff and students with vulnerable health situations. This decision voted against recommendations from Superintendent Hartzler, the Union Classroom Teachers Association, the President of the Board (which they elected), the Reopening Committee (which they also selected and elected to make decisions regarding back to school plans), The Tulsa Health Department, The Oklahoma State Department of Health, The Centers for Disease Control, and The American Pediatrics Association.

This is not an experiment. We are not variables in an experiment. The outcome of starting school in person has already been determined by other schools throughout the US. We have seen the destruction that coronavirus can bring to a community. Please don’t let it be ours next.


Written by Students at Union High School: Seniors Julian Ober, Shrea Tyagi, Addison Darby, Kylie Hammack, and Junior Meghana Venkatesha


(Distanced Learning failed at the August 10th, 2020 Board Meeting by a 3-2 vote. Board Members McAdams and Roemerman voted in favor of distanced learning while Board Members Kinnear, Ford, and Bennett voted against distanced learning)

Board Members Emails:

Voted No to Distance Learning:

Jeff Bennet- curvestulsa@aol.com

Lisa Ford- Lisa4union@yahoo.com 

Ken Kinnear- kenk@kfoc.net 

Voted Yes to Distance Learning:

Heather McAdams: heathermcadams@cox.net

Stacey Roemerman: Stacey.roemerman@gmail.com

Superintendent Kirt Hartzler:



Any evidence links: 




School board meeting link:



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