Joy Hofmeister, State Superintendent of Education

Oklahoma State Department of Education

State superintendent says she would have implemented Oklahoma schools masking mandate ‘a long time ago’

Joy Hofmeister urges all districts to create mandatory mask policies if state board won't

  • Robby Korth

Oklahoma State Department of Education

Joy Hofmeister, State Superintendent of Education

Oklahoma state schools’ superintendent Joy Hofmeister believes mandating masks in classrooms is key to slowing COVID-19’s spread.

If Oklahomans want to combat the virus, it will take collective action that will have to start with local school leaders. But, those school leaders haven’t applied mask mandates evenly. A State Department of Education survey found that roughly half of the school districts in the state require masks in classrooms.

In an interview with StateImpact education reporter Robby Korth, Hofmeister says that the state is in a dangerous position in its fight with COVID-19.

Robby Korth: You’ve made a push for a masking mandate in schools in the past. Is that something you’re going to continue to do?

Joy Hofmeister:We have to do more. We cannot accept that this is going to simply go away without extra vigilance and we are imploring our local school districts, of course, and superintendents to have a mask requirement of all staff and students on campus. That’s it. It has to happen. And if there was a way to direct that as state superintendent, I would have done that a long time ago. 

Korth: So in in these communities that don’t have masking mandates, they’re typically very small rural communities. There are some suburban districts as well. But, you know, masking is as unpopular, if even not more unpopular of a topic in those communities. Why should it fall on these districts who have even more at stake politically and within their standing of their own community to make these decisions?

Hofmeister: COVID affects all of us, it affects every community in Oklahoma, we all play a role in reducing the spread of the virus. Our metro areas where we have the majority of our health facilities are bearing the largest burden because we know that many, many in rural Oklahoma are coming into the metro area for high skilled care, high need ICU resources, as well as critical care that may be unavailable in their own communities. So rural Oklahoma, as well as suburbia and our urban centers all share in reducing transmission statewide.

Korth: So, Governor Stitt has called for all schools to be back in person in January. Do you share that goal? And how do we how do we get there? 

Hofmeister: There’s not a leader in the country with any school supervision that wouldn’t also have that goal. How do we get there? We get there by having the most, I think, wise and careful administration of public health policy that is actually going to make a difference right now for all Oklahomans. And sadly, I feel like we are now behind in the opportunity to contain the virus. I think that could have been mitigated earlier. And we are now experiencing the full brunt of wide spread within our communities. And it is going to take a concerted effort to wear masks, take it seriously. And when we get the opportunity for a vaccine, we know that that will not work if just some decide to have a vaccine, it’s going to take the largest majority of us to have an impact. So wearing a mask now is key to keeping things as stable as possible before we have that opportunity. 

Korth: If we don’t see a sort of reversal or calming down in this, are we going to see another widespread shutdown like we did in the spring where every district had to had to pivot to distance learning? 

Hofmeister: Well, we don’t know. What we’re seeing right now is districts are trying very hard to be able to provide in-person learning and some of our areas where they have far too many staff members who are sick. The domino effect of not having a widespread adherence to wearing masks is playing out right now in Oklahoma public schools.

This COVID-19/education reporting is made possible through a grant from the Walton Family Foundation.