Durant schools face scheduling, other challenges as virus concerns loom

Kevin Farr,
The Bryan County News
Durant High School head coach Todd Vargas, left, speaks to players during a recent contest. The Lions' football game at Tulsa Bishop Kelley was canceled, and its  homecoming contest with McAlester was in doubt early this week after numerous players were quarantined.

It’s been a topsy-turvy start to an unprecedented school year for the Durant Independent School District.

The latest hit was last week’s high school football game against Tulsa Bishop Kelley being canceled because a Lions player tested positive for the COVID-19 virus. Multiple others were forced into quarantine.

That also left this status of this week’s homecoming game with McAlester up in the air heading into the week.

“The main thing is the safety of our students,” Durant Athletic Director Tony Tubbs stated. “We felt like canceling the Kelley game was the best thing. We’ll have to see where we stand with the number quarantined and determine the status of the homecoming game with McAlester as soon as possible. We are working through different situations almost on a daily basis.”

At the start of the school year, there were 325 students districtwide who had elected to take all of their classes virtually. Others have been forced to due to the ongoing pandemic.

The entire Lady Lions varsity softball team was quarantined for two weeks. School bus routes were suspended for nearly two full weeks, and numerous students have been individually quarantined at various times.

All students who are attending in-person classes are required to wear masks throughout the day as well as social distance as much as possible. That has also resulted in staggered lunch periods with the objective of limiting the number of students interacting in an area at any given time.

“We’ve done everything we can to try and keep everyone safe,” Superintendent Duane Merideth commented.

Still, that has resulted in several unfortunate closings, including bus routes starting on Sept. 18 that left numerous parents scrambling for ways to get their children to and from campuses each morning and afternoon.

A school transportation department employee tested positive for coronavirus and the Oklahoma State Health Department refused to allow the school to operate bus routes, quarantining each route driver, which was out of the district’s control.

Those drivers were released from quarantine Sept. 30 and normal routes resumed, but during that time several of bus riders remained at home for virtual learning.

Those parents who did transport their students during that span learned quickly the traffic nightmare involved during the 8 a.m.-3 p.m. hours, especially in the Washington Avenue and University Boulevard area.

Most activities that have not been canceled have been modified and continue in hopes of not being shut down entirely.

According to Merideth, the school district plans to limit any closures as much as possible, but that could mean single classes are quarantined or potentially sections of a building instead of the entire school if positive cases swell.

Despite of any in-person shutdowns, the district plans on moving forward with virtual learning for all students who need it.

“If we have to close school and go virtually for some reason, our staff members will be working from the buildings,” Merideth reiterated.