Schools roll out protocols to prepare for new year

Orange Express percussionists practice while wearing masks in the Performing Arts Center at the Tahlequah High School.

Students around the county are ready to return to class, and school districts are preparing to receive them.

Tahlequah Public Schools plans to implement many of the same policies it used last year to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus, although the mask mandate has been lifted. That comes on the heels of the passage of Senate Bill 658, which prohibits public schools from mandating mask-wearing.

“We recommend that people to wear masks. Outside of that, all of the other procedures will stay the same,” said Superintendent Leon Ashlock.

The first day of school will be Aug. 12, and teachers will return Aug. 9. Open houses will take place at Greenwood, Cherokee, and Heritage elementary schools from 5 to 7 p.m. Sequoyah Elementary will hold its open house on Aug. 6.

Through the CARES Act, TPS invested in an HVAC system that will monitor the air quality at Tahlequah High School.

This year, all TPS students will eat for free, but families must fill out free and reduced-price lunch forms. They will continue to offer after school programming that includes a free supper. The district will also provide school supplies to all students.

“We are excited about that and we will try to make that a practice going forward,” said Ashlock.

All students will continue to use a device that will be provided by the school.

“Our elementary kids won’t have to take their devices home every day, but we’ll send them out if they have a distance learning day, if weather is bad, or if there is a COVID closure. On the other hand, the middle school and high school will take their devices home every day,” he said.

For students who are not yet registered to ride the bus, TPS encourages parents to visit the Transportation Department on 820 Pendleton St. so their children can be assigned to routes.

The Keys School District is preparing for the return of school, with caution.

“At the end of the year, we were in the green, which allowed us to hold summer school without wearing masks. Now the virus has raised its ugly head again, we are in the red and the danger has returned,” wrote Superintendent Vol Woods in a letter to parents.

KPS is encouraging students to wear masks. They will also practice physical distancing, hand-washing, cleaning facilities, and contact tracing to promote public safety.

“Just a reminder: Some of our students and staff have compromised immune systems,” Woods wrote. “Our main goal is to keep our children and staff safe. So this fall, when we are indoors and are in the Orange or Red [category for COVID-19 transmission], we will strongly recommend mask-wearing for all students and staff. All students and staff will be required to wear masks on the school buses.”

School will start Aug. 12 and follow the same schedule as last year. Staff and paraprofessional employees must meet at the school from Aug. 9-11 for professional development.

Hulbert Public Schools is also highly encouraging mask-wearing, as well as vaccinations for everyone who can receive them.

“We will highly recommend and encourage mask-wearing. For those who can be vaccinated, we encourage them to do so,” said Superintendent Jolyn Choate.

School will start Aug. 12, at 8 a.m. for both schools, and teachers will report Aug. 9 for professional development.

Those who have not yet signed up to ride the bus should contact Transportation Director Packy Ellis at

Parents can still enroll their students. They can request an enrollment form to be emailed to them on the website, or they can also email Aubree Korte at

“We will be social distancing as much as we possibly can,” said Choate.

They plan to separate tables by grade and maintain distance in the lunchrooms, as was done last year. They will continue to promote hand-washing and disinfecting on all surface areas.

Hulbert will hold an open house Aug. 10, but is only encouraging new students and sixth-graders to attend at the middle and high school. At the elementary school, parents should call to set up a time for the open house at 918-772-2501, extension 200, so the campus does not experience a huge influx of visitors.

Sequoyah High School starts its year Aug. 12 for freshman students only. They are to report to the Old Gym at 7:45 a.m. for COVID-19 testing. All new students will need a COVID-19 nasal swab test permission form from their parents on file.

Students are being encouraged to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.

"Students who get the vaccine will receive a $300 vaccination stipend if they can get both doses before Sept. 1," said Principal Natalie Cloud.

The school will enforce a mask mandate for all students, staff, and visitors who enter the campus.

All students will report to school Aug. 13. Classes will start at 8 a.m. There will be no outside food deliveries, leaving for lunch, or bringing food back onto campus during the lunchtime period.

The school will hold parent meetings via Zoom to answer questions and address concerns. Parents are encouraged to contact the front desk for questions.

Parents are also encouraged to stay informed by setting up a parent portal through Infinite Campus. For help, email Karen Dodge-Kelso at

Students can pick up their schedules on campus Aug. 3-5 from 8 a.m to 3:30 p.m.

What's next

The final in the series will detail reopening plans for Cherokee County's eight dependent districts.

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