Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt announced on Monday that all schools in his state are open after officials prioritized teacher vaccinations.
"I cast a vision in the very beginning," Stitt said during an appearance on Fox and Friends. "We want to be top 10 in vaccines administered, and we've hit that goal. We're actually No. 6 in the country in vaccines administered per capita, but I immediately said we've got to raise our teachers up on the list, right behind first responders. ... Every one of our schools [is] open in the state of Oklahoma."
The state's Department of Education released a "Return to Learn Oklahoma" framework for reopening schools last June in preparation for school reopenings, and several districts returned students to classrooms shortly thereafter. Elementary schools in Oklahoma City reopened in January, and Tulsa Public Schools welcomed students of all grades back into classrooms in February.
The Department of Education and Stitt offered conflicting accounts of whether all schools in the state have opened. A spokesperson for the Department of Education told the Washington Examiner in an email "at least" one school, an institution in the Oklahoma City area with about 3,000 students, is still fully remote. By comparison, Stitt's chief of communications, Charlie Hannema, said Tulsa's public school system was the last to reopen on Feb. 25.
Hannema further claimed the schools' reopening decisions were made without a directive from Stitt, saying the state "has an independently elected superintendent of schools, ... so the governor could not require all schools to offer in-person instruction."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidance in mid-February saying schools could reopen safely without the majority of teachers receiving vaccines — an advisory that stands in contrast to demands from many teachers unions that have stonewalled efforts to resume in-person learning in some of the country's largest cities. Bitter weekslong fights in both Los Angeles and Chicago led to agreements to reopen classrooms after powerful groups representing educators insisted on having strict COVID-19 protocols, some of which were more stringent than what the CDC was recommending, before reentering public schools.
The governor's comments follow a Friday executive order lifting coronavirus restrictions on events and doing away with a mask mandate in state buildings after Oklahoma reported a 32% decline in both positive cases and deaths over the last 14 days.
"Because of the progress we have made, I will be issuing a new executive order tomorrow. There will be no statewide restrictions on events or Oklahomans," Stitt said on Thursday. "I’m also removing the requirements to wear a mask in state buildings."
Oklahoma was one of 11 states that never imposed a statewide mask mandate.
The state has administered roughly 1,465,000 vaccinations at the time of publishing, at a rate of 37,000 per 100,000 Oklahomans. Over 107 million total doses of the vaccine have been given throughout the United States.