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The Grapes of Wrath: A Modern Version

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In John Steinbeck’s classic novel, The Grapes of Wrath, the Joad family finally reaches the end of its rope.  Setback after setback, loss of their livelihood, and finally, loss of their land force the Joads to reluctantly leave the only home they have ever known for the promised land of California.  Oklahoma proves to be as indifferent to their absence as it had been to their presence.  The Joads quietly leave everything they have ever known behind, but as backward and misunderstood as they and the countless other Okies were, they never left their dignity.  They never once presumed the world around them would bend to their needs.    

Much of the world still sees Oklahoma through the Okie stereotype.  We are a fly-over state, insignificant and backwards . . . a place of noble victimhood.  We have become the Joads, not because others have branded us Okies, but because we have resigned ourselves to suckling our providers in the abandoned barns of misfortune.  We are a state rich in resources, strong in character, and unrelenting in resolve.  We have traded that strength for a cheap stoicism.  We have become caricatures of the caricatures created so long ago by a pretentious Californian, but the current state of Oklahoma need not be the enduring state of Oklahoma.  Our next generations deserve better than fatalistic surrender to the self-fulfilling prophecies of a boom-bust economy.  We are not bound to the past; rather, we choose to cling to that which we have known – the way of the Joads – motivated by a misguided fealty to suffering as a rite of passage.   Our challenges may be unprecedented, as some have suggested, but I cannot imagine them worse than the challenges overcome by the generations before us.

Oklahomans are by nature independent, self-reliant, and more than a little stubborn.  When things get tough enough, our Wrath kicks in, and we either deal with it or we quietly move on.  Oklahoma educators are cut from the same burlap.  Your classroom teachers and school support professionals have endured a lot in recent years and will continue to endure . . . until one day they won’t.  When they cannot take anymore without sacrificing their dignity, they will quietly move on to something else or somewhere else.  Oklahoma teachers are following in the Joads’ dusty footsteps.  As intimately as they love this state, other promised lands beckon.  As quietly as Ms. Joad and Mr. Joad plied their trades in our Oklahoma schools, they have been quietly leaving.  And just like Steinbeck’s Okies, the Sooner State is as indifferent to their absence as it was their presence.

If you get a chance any time soon, pick up a copy of The Grapes of Wrath, or catch the movie.  It’s worth the popcorn.  For another option, just visit your local public school to see a modern version unfolding right before your eyes. Today’s Joads, however, are neither destitute nor uneducated.  They have options and will reluctantly go where leaders acknowledge their value and loyalty.  None of us educators are naïve, this is not a problem which can be solved overnight, but neither did it evolve overnight.  Past Oklahomans may have endured the Dust Bowl, but they spent that time addressing the causes so their children would never suffer such calamity again.  Our state suffered from the mass exodus of Okies during The Great Depression, but in the end, we will suffer much more from the current Okie exodus.  Oklahoma educators are choosing to follow the Joads because Oklahomans can give up a lot, but they will never give up their dignity.  And unfortunately, our school professionals are losing hope that our state leaders will abandon the past in order to meet the needs of the next generation.

I originally wrote this article in 2017, shortly before Oklahoma teachers walked out because they felt unvalued, but now in 2022 they feel vilified. Whereas the grapes of wrath in Oklahoma teachers’ souls were once “growing heavy for the vintage,” they have now simply withered on the vine because a profession emptied of dignity quickly becomes an empty profession.

Tom Deighan is superintendent of Duncan Public Schools. You may email him at  deighantom@gmail.com and read past articles at www.mostlyeducational.com

Burp Detectors and Voucher Funds 

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On March 7th, 2022 at approximately 7:23 P.M., during a public board meeting at an undisclosed public school district in Oklahoma, a board member burped very discreetly. No one in attendance noticed, but within seconds, a series of analog reels began whirring in an unmarked basement office in the Oklahoma State Department of Education.  Moments later, a thin sliver of paper emerges. “Broccoli, she had broccoli for lunch,” a federal agent announces. “Log it and document a trace of wasabi. ” Another tiny slip of paper emerges, and he hits a large red button.  “Red alert. We got curry.” Warning lights strobe. “Repeat, curry in section four! This is not a drill.”

Public school board members, students, parents, and staff know that virtually every aspect of their school day is an open record, subject to public accountability, scrutiny, and documentation. And while we hope that burp-detectors are just a myth, no one really knows who reviews all this “data.” We only know it’s on a shelf somewhere, ready when needed. For the record, I also had broccoli last night, seasoned with Ms. Dash. (I respect her too much to call her Mrs. Dash.) I will file the correct forms after Spring Break.

During this session of the legislature, the issue of school choice and vouchers have been center stage, and a very curious thing seems to be happening.  Oklahomans are starting to ask if the burp-detectors currently plaguing public schools will follow the voucher funds. Oklahomans are very self-reliant, and we passionately support personal freedom, but we also know how to pinch a penny. We don’t oppose vouchers; we just want to know where the burp-detectors will go in these private schools. It appears that as much as Okies like school choice, they also want to know where their hard-earned tax dollars are going.

No one claims our current system is perfect.  Parents, educators, and students have been systematically alienated in recent years by being forced to choose between either Marxism or Crony Capitalism.  These are false choices, for true school choice does not begin with far-away, out-of-state interests telling us Okies how to run our schools. Local Oklahoma educators are not radicals committed to usurping parental rights, and local Oklahoma parents do not wish to burn down their local schools.  True choice begins at the local level by truly re-empowering local educators and parents.

I have never met a single private or homeschool proponent who wants the government burp-detectors. Likewise, I don’t know any public education parent comfortable with the government monitoring their kids’ cabbage levels.  Consequently, the issue of vouchers has become much more difficult as Okies have begun asking questions about accountability and oversight of “voucher” funds. People can agree or disagree with how public schools spend money, but anyone can review every single penny. Will the same public rules apply to vouchers?

In recent weeks, it appears that what has been good for roasting the public goose is problematic for the private gander. Everyone knows if public schools are serving curry, wasabi, or Ms. Dash, so the same transparency should apply to the voucher goose. I have no clue how to season a goose, but Okies want to know the recipe if their tax dollars are being used. This is not as political as it is practical. Oklahomans wish to avoid another epic scandal with school funds.  Public Money, Public Rules seems to be a reasonable solution for Okies on both sides of the issue. If the burp-detectors are not good enough for voucher funds, maybe we should reconsider them in your local schools. Unfortunately, we all know where this is heading in the future . . . Dateline: August 23, 2025.  Principal Smith sits in his new government-issued chair. Within seconds, a series of computers begin whirring in unmarked basement offices in Washington D.C. . . .

Please pray for wisdom among our state leaders on this difficult issue. Pray for a sense of humor, and above all, please pray for the safety of all Oklahoma schools this Second Sunday of the Month.

Tom Deighan is superintendent of Duncan Public Schools. You may email him at  deighantom@gmail.com and read past articles at www.mostlyeducational.com

A Few Voucher Questions

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Yes, I am a public school superintendent, but I have never opposed school choice, be it charters or vouchers. I firmly believe locally controlled public schools – schools truly in the hands of parents and local educators – can compete with any other structure, no matter how epic. As our state barrels toward vouchers, however, I wonder if we have learned from the epic nightmare that allowed millions of Oklahoma tax dollars to be secreted away by an online virtual charter school. If that stuff happened in your local school, it would be an open-and-shut case. 

I do not fear school choice, because frankly, the traditional educational establishment has alienated ourselves from parents and educators at the local level in recent years.  People wonder why educators do not show up at the polls, and I suspect it is because we have allowed radical national voices to shape our message in Oklahoma. Oklahoma parents and educators are not radicals. In such an environment, I cannot dismiss parents’ legitimate concerns and demands for more options. 

Unfortunately, the radical alternative paints all public schools as evil places. And likewise, few local parents see their community schools as evil (it’s those other schools), and they do not wish to see their local funds disappear into some epic sinkhole.  Local parents and educators want the same thing: Safe, Caring, Healthy, Open, Orderly Learning Spaces where kids can learn (S.C.H.O.O.L.S.).  As long as we continue to allow Marxists or Crony Capitalists to sanction our options, however, your local community schools will continue to be either overregulated and bureaucratized or systematically dismantled and sold to the highest bidders. I don’t believe this is the school choice parents envision, either.

Hopefully, our state’s epic journey has taught us that rules for the politically connected and powerful, on either side of the aisle, should be the same.  If that is the case, public schools can compete with anyone. That’s why Public Money, Public Rules must apply to vouchers. This cuts both ways. If the rules are good enough for public schools, they should be good enough for voucher funds poured into private and for-profit schools. Conversely, if the rules are not reasonable for private or for-profit schools, they should not be applied to public schools. I have never encountered a single educator who opposes this logic, for the current rules are killing neighborhood schools.  Likewise, I have never encountered a single private school educator willing to deal with all our rules, tons of cash notwithstanding.

I realize that there is nothing more dangerous than asking questions nowadays, but Oklahomans might consider some as we move forward on vouchers. Will they report four, five, and six-year graduation cohort rates?  Will they be penalized for drop-outs, even if they move to other states?  Must their teachers and principals suffocate under the obsolete, time-wasting TLE Evaluation system?  Will the salaries of ALL staff be reported publicly?  Will their students take all of the irrelevant, state-mandated, federally-driven, Common-Core Friendly standardized tests?  Will they pick-and-choose which kids they enroll?  Will they receive A-F scores? If voucher students don’t “fit,” will these “other kids” be sent packing to their home school district? (As it currently happens.)  Will they return the remaining funds to the home school? (This currently does not happen.) Will they pay their teachers according to the minimum salary? Who will track and ensure the money has been spent appropriately?  How do we avoid thousands of tiny little scandals that could easily create an even more epic disaster for Oklahoma? 

Here’s a suggestion: let’s just pattern the new voucher system after the medical marijuana laws. Let’s invite out-of-state or foreign bad actors to milk the state for all its worth and damage rural communities. When it becomes a political liability, we can courageously and slowly fix those laws to protect Oklahomans.  We could even throw some drug money at the schools (for the kids!). Wait a minute, this all sounds strangely familiar. Perhaps, the real question: Is this some sort of epic template?

Tom Deighan is superintendent of Duncan Public Schools. You may email him at  deighantom@gmail.com and read past articles at www.mostlyeducational.com

Swimming in the Piranha Fishbowl

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Historically, certain professions accepted the reality of living in a “fish bowl.”  Politicians, pastors/ministers, school leaders, and city leaders all signed up for this in some measure.  People in private-sector leadership understand the fishbowl, too, due to social media, as do teachers, law enforcement, and healthcare workers. Swimming in the fishbowl is not just for high-profile leaders anymore.  Nowadays, anyone can find themselves in the public fishbowl, but in the COVID Era, the fishbowl is now full of piranhas. And if you or someone you love has ever been piranha’d, you need no definition.  Find a leader in a fishbowl, add piranhas.  

Many of us signed up for life in the fishbowl, but in the social media age, anyone can unexpectedly take a swim.  No matter who you are or how you found your fishbowl, no one is truly ready for it.  The stress on your family, relationships, and health can be overwhelming under normal circumstances, but add a few piranhas, and life in the fishbowl has become a blood sport. Without warning and without cause, anyone (literally anyone) can be attacked with a thousand tiny bites while the public watches on.

Consequently, joyful jobs like coaching or volunteer positions like school board and city council are rapidly becoming less joyful. Modern technology has devolved into something medieval. Decent people are now publicly piranha’d simply for having a different perspective, a different philosophy, or a deeply held conviction. People are demonized simply because of their profession, titles or labels.  A snap of the jaws, a little blood in the water, and a feeding frenzy. 

When we interject national political vitriol into our homes, churches, schools, and communities, people become caricatures and symbols.  Symbols become targets. Ideas become weaponized, and decent people become dehumanized.  Consequently, piranhas are tossed into our schools and churches and neighborhoods. Before we allow anyone else to be piranah’d, we must remember that these are real people with families, jobs, and dreams.  They are our neighbors. Our doctors and nurses. Our pastors and principals.  

Do people’s titles, positions, or political parties make them more or less human?  Do we really believe local board members and city council members are evil?  Your local teachers are radicals?  Healthcare workers are trying to hurt people? Parents are terrorists? Do we really believe this about each other? 

We may never see our statewide or national discourse return to civility, but at the local levels, we can restore decency by recognizing each other as people, not as symbols. Your local “fishbowl” leaders are often simply volunteers; they do not deserve to be demonized.  People working in the fishbowl do not always deserve praise, but they don’t deserve to be constantly piranha’d, either. 

Our children are watching, and how we treat each other as adults teaches them volumes about our world.  Our little Mayberry can either nullify or affirm the world’s ugliness. We can model true tolerance – accepting people even when we do not agree with them – or they can see a world full of bloody fishbowls, where our online profiles or likes determine our worth as people. 

National civility will never be restored until we restore it locally, in our own communities, our own churches, and our own neighborhoods.  We must model it for our children, whether online or in person, and maybe what starts locally could spread statewide and infect our whole nation.  Make no mistake, however, it starts in our own fishbowls, and it starts with us. Enough of us have the scars, so we know what to look for. Let’s no longer permit colleagues and neighbors to be piranha’d. Sure, it may still happen in faraway places, but not in our local fishbowls. Not in our Mayberries.    

Tom Deighan is superintendent of Duncan Public Schools. You may email him at  deighantom@gmail.com and read past articles at www.mostlyeducational.com

Bystanders and Upstanders at the Seat of Scorn

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Once upon a time, a powerful ruler publicly humiliated a simple woman.  He invited her as a guest of honor to an annual celebration, but instead of honoring her, the ruler heaped ire and abuse upon her, attacking her character, honor, and integrity. She helplessly endured it in silence while her friends and colleagues silently watched. No one spoke up or even stood beside her. Her seat of honor at a celebration was instead a seat of scorn.

Those same friends and colleagues privately came to her afterwards and affirmed their love and support for her.  The ruler also visited the woman and apologized very sincerely for his hurtful and unfair behavior and invited her to another celebration. She was not attacked this time, but the previous injustice was ignored, and she left more wounded than ever, because private praise rarely heals public wounds, and neither do secret apologies. Such a broken heart simply festers.

I share this little parable because I am often asked how people can affirm support for their local educators, and I believe it is how we choose to respond when someone sits defenseless in the seat of scorn. Like the simple woman in our parable, local educators often sit alone and humiliated in the public eye, but this is not just happening to school staff. Police officers and healthcare workers have been targeted mercilessly, and likewise, volunteer elected officials like school board members and city council members. Still yet, the seat of scorn is not limited to these leaders or professions. 

Ask the men and women at the drive-thru windows and convenience store counters how often they are cussed or insulted lately.  Ask your bus drivers, your cooks, your custodians, or your school secretaries how people often treat them.  Ask the tellers at the bank, your servers, your pastors.  Ask your friends and family, and ask the person in the mirror, for you probably have felt it, too. Yes, local educators currently feel isolated and humiliated at the seat of scorn, but they are not alone in regard to feeling so alone.

Such treatment is often face-to-face, but nowadays, anyone can be abused publicly by petty tyrants on social media.  Simple folks retreat to social media for a celebration with friends and family, but they quickly find themselves sitting ducks in the virtual seat of scorn. Despite dozens and dozens of “friends” looking on, people rarely stand beside them publicly. An avalanche of support may pour in privately, but private praise and secret apologies never heal public wounds; they just make it worse.

I am often asked what our local educators need, and it is the same thing everyone else needs right now: someone . . . anyone . . . brave enough to stand beside them at the seat of scorn.  Whether online in social media or in line at the store, people should not suffer alone when someone browbeats them for the higher cost of a fountain drink or for simply being a healthcare provider, police officer, or educator. We should never return bad behavior with worse behavior, but we can always walk across the room and stand beside them, so they know they are not alone. I wonder how many times I have personally been guilty of being a bystander.

When schoolkids receive anti-bully training, they learn that being a bystander simply fuels the bad behavior.  As a result, children learn to be upstanders.  Simply standing up with the person often neutralizes the bully, and the person is no longer alone.  Instead of silently watching when someone is humiliated in the seat of scorn, we should be like our children. We should stand beside them, whether online or in person, because private praise and secret apologies afterwards never help.  We all know the hot seat of scorn, so let’s be upstanders rather than bystanders when it happens in our communities. Please pray for restored civility in our communities, the courage to stand with each other, and above all, the safety of our schools this Second Sunday of the Month. 

Tom Deighan is superintendent of Duncan Public Schools. You may email him at  deighantom@gmail.com and read past articles at www.mostlyeducational.com

The Myth of an Epic Snow Day

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Remember when we only knew if school was cancelled by tuning into the local television or radio stations? The list would stream across the bottom of the screen in alphabetical order in an excruciatingly slow loop. If yours wasn’t listed on the evening news, it might appear on the ten o’clock news, or we tuned in before school. Oh, the suspense! In retrospect, this was all incredibly inconvenient but terribly exciting, and to this generation, it all sounds like a mythical Norman Rockwell scene on a magazine cover.

Sometimes, we did not know school was cancelled until the bus simply failed to show up.  On one such occasion, I remember a group of us dutifully waiting on the corner in a snowstorm for a such a bus that never arrived. While we waited, someone playfully tossed a loosely packed snowball, then another. Within seconds, a friendly melee erupted as we pelted each other with handfuls of soft powdery snow.  Kids nowadays cannot imagine standing on a corner in a snowstorm, wondering if their bus will arrive or if school would even open, but that bus never did arrive, and we did not make it home until dark.

Our joy quickly spread through the neighborhood, and we never wondered once about school. We disappeared into clouds of powdery snow, and as the temperatures quickly rose and the snow grew stickier, we headed for the park to make snowmen.  What naïve and inexperienced elementary kids we were!  Just as the sun peeked through the clouds, I remember a distinct Thwap! Then another and another. 

The middle-schoolers ambushed us. Older and wiser, they reserved their energy early in the morning, patiently waiting for the consistency of the snow to change from corn starch to sticky cotton candy.  And while we dreamed of silly snowmen, they forged an armory of snowballs.  Barely inside the park gates, panic ensued as my friends fell to the left and right. Our attackers moved like a trained militia, aiming snowballs at our stinging faces. When we fell, they pelted us mercilessly while a soldier gleefully pulled out our collars or waistbands, filling them with icy snow.  

For a short time, all joy of a snow day vanished as the middle-schoolers unleashed wintery carnage on us, but high-schoolers soon emerged, seizing their stockpiles of snowballs and raining fire and ice on that poor group of tweens.  As we sniffled and snotted, we watched snowball justice on a Medieval scale, and our former foes soon lay buried under mounds of snowballs in the city park. The high-schoolers disappeared as quickly as they arrived, and it was all over. 

The joyful spirit of a snow day returned, however, and those same middle schoolers helped us with our snowmen, and we promised not to tell our parents.  Before long, we lost ourselves in snow angels and forts and sliding down hills with cardboard we pulled from dumpsters.  Not an adult in sight, and we never went home.  Our parents never wondered where we were or worried. They knew we would come home when we got hungry or when the streetlights came on, whichever came first.

Modern children still know the joy of a snow day, but in our overconnected, overprotected, and overscheduled world, few of them will ever experience an epic snow day.  The stinging of fingers and toes near the fire. The pure happiness of a carefree, adult-free day with no certainty and no worry. Children wandering and battling faux wars that led to truces marked with snow angels and cardboard sleds. 

Like old Saturday Evening Post magazine covers, it’s all a myth to modern families.  Nevertheless, maybe some things we have lost are worth rediscovering, like the suspense and joy of a surprise snow day. Unfortunately, our childhoods are now the Norman Rockwell images for this generation, but maybe some parts should once again be real, for I can think of nothing this generation needs more than a truly epic snow day.

Tom Deighan is superintendent of Duncan Public Schools. You may email him at  deighantom@gmail.com and read past articles at www.mostlyeducational.com

COVID Groundhog Day for Schools

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Groundhog Day is this Wednesday, February 2, 2022, and just like Bill Murray in the movie Groundhog Day, our world will drag out of bed expecting the COVID loop to continue. But this isn’t just any Groundhog Day. Next Wednesday is 2-2-22, so something exciting is bound to happen, possibly at 2:22 PM. (Yes, 2.2.22.2.22 – just as Nostradamus likely predicted!) I am skeptical, but if Punxsutawney Phil doesn’t crawl out of his burrow before noon on Wednesday, I’m buying extra toilet paper.

In recent weeks, schools have experienced their own Groundhog Day of sorts as preemptive and indefinite closures again rolled across our nation due to COVID. In Duncan, we closed for the first time due to COVID (two days), and students reportedly broke down in tears at the news. Thankfully, we have avoided preemptive and indefinite closures, but this is their third school year saturated in such fear and anxiety. If it terrified our students who have attended open schools, just imagine the nationwide mental condition of students living through the Groundhog Day loop of constant closures.     

After three years of subjecting children to such trauma, my concern is that we will forever be stuck in the same Groundhog Day pattern. Schools face intense pressure to close preemptively and indefinitely at the slightest sniffle. When they do close, they are endlessly shamed. Meanwhile, our nation seems unaware of the thousands and thousands of schools in our nation that have managed to safely avoid preemptive and indefinite closures. Where are the models and data from those schools to help guide other struggling districts?

The 2022-23 school year will be our fourth COVID school year, and parents and educators need examples and strategies to stay open, not endless pressure to close and bitter shame when they do. Unfortunately, I suspect that most parents and educators still assume that preemptive, indefinite closures are the norm rather than the exception. Our national obsession about closures has ignored thousands of lonely schools that defied the odds to stay open. What about the states and communities that never closed?  Where are the models and strategies gleaned from their journeys?

This is our third COVID school year, and we know the patterns by now, and we know what works. If we are ever going to escape this COVID Groundhog Day, we must offer schools real strategies to avoid indefinite and preemptive closures. If we do not equip schools now, we can expect this pattern to repeat itself again in the future, whether or not Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow on 2-2-22 at 2:22.

As hard as it has been for districts like Duncan to stay open and avoid preemptive closures, it has been infinitely more difficult for those schools pressured to preemptively and indefinitely closed. Whichever path communities have chosen, doubt and anxiety dominate every aspect of our lives. And if it has been hard on us adults, we can barely comprehend the despair of children living through this endless COVID Groundhog Day.

When I spent Christmas Break compiling a book about Duncan’s journey to keep schools open, I did it in hopes that some attention could be drawn to schools across our nation that have managed to stay open. Surely, our nation can learn something from the thousands of other schools like ours that have defied the odds. Parents, educators and students all deserve the confidence and assurance that they can return to normalcy. They need hope for ending preemptive and indefinite closures due to COVID.

Before we ever approach Groundhog Day 2023, schools need strategies and models to safely stay open – instead of shame and impossible choices. If Bill Murray could escape his endless loop, we can, too. And who knows, maybe something cool will happen on 2-2-22 at 2:22? I will be watching that little critter closely, this Wednesday. I don’t have any predictions, but if Punxsutawney Phil is wearing an N-95 mask, I am stocking up on Charmin.

Tom Deighan is superintendent of Duncan Public Schools. You may email him at  deighantom@gmail.com and read past articles at www.mostlyeducational.com

Local Experts, Local Heroes During COVID

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Way back in the summer of 2020 . . . when we were in our fourth month of the two-week shutdown to stop the COVID curve, I received a phone call.  Oklahoma had just completed the Spring COVID school closures, and my clothes were still wet from our “in-person” Class of 2020 graduation that was destroyed half-way through by a monsoon.  At the time, I spent my days and nights mired in indecipherable CDC guidelines, reading new studies from Europe about the low-risk of COVID spread in schools, and searching for facemasks and hand-sanitizer on the interweb. As I sat at my desk one day pulling out the last of my beautiful hair, I received a phone call from a board member asking if I would be willing to meet with some of our local physicians as we prepared for re-opening in August. 

This may shock some of you, but I am not a real doctor, so I was a little out of my depth at this point. I didn’t know if “virus shedding” meant I needed a lint roller or a stronger spam blocker for my computer.   Nevertheless, human pride being what it is, I was reluctant to accept the invitation.  Prominent leaders were already drawing impossible lines for schools. Some pressured schools to close preemptively and indefinitely.  Others shamed schools for considering any precautions at all.  Meanwhile, both screamed, “For the kids!”  And both prophesied doom upon all who dared stray from their orthodoxy.  Did I wish to face a panel of real doctors for advice about managing 5-year-olds in a pandemic?  I would rather turn my head and cough.

Yet, I somehow swallowed my pride and politely accepted the invitation. A few days later, after signing some very intimidating legal documents, I stepped into a large room filled with masked physicians and healthcare workers socially distanced around a large square. School leaders at that time had been abandoned to manage a pandemic.  We had very little guidance, and no one was offering much grace, only shame and condemnation for every decision. I honestly did not know what to expect when I opened those doors. I had faced galleries of military generals and colonels before, and I was less intimidated.  

I was still new to Duncan, but I quickly learned why this is a modern Mayberry. DRH staff handled me with kid gloves from day one.  (They even called me “doctor” without a tinge of irony!)  In the coming weeks and months, they informed and educated me.  They provided us with free thermometers.  They offered free evaluations and testing. And in a time when the whole world was terrified to open schools, they advised without pressuring and supported without shaming.  

We are now in our third school year of COVID panic, and Duncan Public Schools has fought the pandemic instead of each other. We have struggled together for OUR kids, not against national narratives that wedge schools in impossible situations.  Somehow, by the Grace of God, we have avoided preemptive and indefinite school closures, and we have done so as a community. We have been terrified at times, and we have plenty of scars to show for it, but they are our scars, and we will heal together. 

We could never have reopened or stayed open, however, without the gentle wisdom and guidance of Duncan Regional Hospital staff. You are my local experts and heroes.  Likewise, I shudder to imagine our community here in 2022 without them faithfully standing in the gap for all of us.  Looking back, I now realize that we were all scared back in June of 2020, but I can only imagine how tough this has been on you.  May God provide each of you with the strength to endure a little longer on the front lines, for better days surely lie ahead.  And may you continue your work with the reassurance that prayers of thanks and support rise daily for you all.  On behalf of Duncan Public Schools and this entire community, Thank You all for preserving our little Mayberry.

Tom Deighan is superintendent of Duncan Public Schools. You may email him at  deighantom@gmail.com and read past articles at www.mostlyeducational.com

Open Schools Versus Preemptive Closures

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January 7, 2022 by Tom Deighan

Once again , schools across our nation are preemptively closing due to COVID-19.  Yes, closing is always an option for Duncan Public Schools, but we will stay open as long as we can safely do so. We will continue to face this pandemic as we have from the beginning. If we close a single site or the entire district, we will close for a defined period due to actual conditions. Our children need the structure, safety, and normalcy of open schools. We have faced this threat before, and we will face it again, together.  

Hundreds of schools in our nation preemptively extended their Christmas Breaks, and who can blame them? We are in our third school year with COVID, and national educational leaders still exert intense pressure on schools to close, terrifying parents and staff.  Due to endless media reports of school closings, I suspect much of our nation is unaware that schools have been open safely since the beginning of this pandemic.  No wonder parents and educators across this nation are still terrified to fully commit to in-person, full-time instruction in the age of COVID.

We know that schools have been open from the beginning – not just during the current 2021-22 school year but last year (2020-21) – and yes, even during the spring of 2020! Wyoming and Montana reportedly did not preemptively close schools, even as the majority of other states preemptively closed (including Oklahoma.)  Yet, by the summer of 2020, we had solid research from Europe suggesting that schools could be safely open, and it was correct. Why don’t we hear about more research and the thousands of schools that have been open safely during all of this?  Why don’t we reassure these parents, educators, and students with the evidence available at this time?

We now have literally thousands of models available to reassure fearful parents and educators that full-time, in-person instruction is not only safe but also prevents the negative social, psychological, and academic impacts of long term, preemptive closures. I suspect that parents and educators may be unaware of how many schools have offered full-time, in-person instruction. Even if they are in an open school, I suspect they believe open schools are the exception – not the rule 

Rather than focus on the current slate of closures, perhaps we should reframe our national discussion as we prepare for the 2022-23 school year.  If we can somehow raise awareness of open schools (or just acknowledge them) – we may not have to constantly struggle against the pressure to preemptively close schools. Where are the studies, the examples, the research, and the data about all these schools that have stayed open? Why aren’t national leaders helping parents and educators welcome their students back with confidence?  Where is the proof that preemptive closures have worked? 

The fear and reality of COVID-19 is real.  It terrifies me every day at some level as a superintendent, and closure of our sites or entire district for the safety of our students and staff is always an option.  As we prepare for the 2022-23 school year, however, this is the time to settle the issue of full-time, in-person learning versus preemptive closures. 

No school is a model for how to manage COVID, especially not Duncan Public schools, but national experts can surely knit together some best practices from the thousands of schools who have stayed open during this nightmare. Districts who have been open feel alone, and districts who are closing preemptively feel alone. That is not necessary as we face our fourth school year with COVID.  May God protect our schools, children, and staff once again as we enter another fearful time, but may we also face any challenges with confidence, experience and wisdom . . . for that is how we want our students to face the world.

Tom Deighan is superintendent of Duncan Public Schools. You may email him at  deighantom@gmail.com and read past articles at www.mostlyeducational.com

Toby Dawn’s Merry Winter Break

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When I arrived home recently to discover a large red-headed man in a Santa hat writing Grynch in my driveway with a charcoal briquette, I choked up a little bit because every year, my lifelong friend and childhood hero, Toby Dawn McIntyre, castigates me about canceling Christmas. It’s our sweet little Christmas tradition, and it always makes me a bit sentimental. The holidays just aren’t official until someone puts a lump of coal in my stocking about the whole Christmas versus Winter Break issue, so I am glad it was jolly old Toby Dawn. This mean superintendent’s heart grew two sizes just at the sight of his charcoal smudged face. 

“Well, Mister Superintendent,” he sneered like the duly trademarked Grinch. “I won’t let you steal Christmas from these kids!”  Other than Toby, I hadn’t heard much this year about school Christmas observances being controversial, but I suspect that’s because everyone’s focused on finding that cool new Omicron Transformer Robot to put under the tree. I hear they will be everywhere soon, but not necessarily in time for Christmas, which is clearly a supply-chain issue. Nevertheless, all this Winter Break stuff is very serious stuff to Mr. McIntyre, so I cannot blame him for being upset. 

To be sure, Toby can spell Grinch correctly, but he has developed a fear of copyright infringement ever since a famous country singer shut down his Toby Dawn’s I Love This Bar BQ food truck. “The lawyers told me he could trademark Toby, if I didn’t settle,” he lamented. “They threatened to take away my nameTommy Boy, my name!  And you know I can’t stand to be called Tobias!” Clearly, Mr. Keith doesn’t play, and Toby did have an especially rough 4th grade after a substitute teacher accidentally used his full name. No one wants to experience that drama again.

The day before Christmas Break is my most favorite day of the year to visit schools, and for years I have invited Tobias to come sing Christmas carols, decorate Christmas trees, and to eat Christmas cookies at any of our numerous public-school Christmas parties. I think he would see parents and educators agreeing rationally regarding the difficult issues of ribbon candy and handmade ornaments at the kid-level. I wonder if Tobias Dawn McIntyre might be wearing his Cable News Goggles when looking at this issue, because no matter how often I tell him that schools can celebrate Christmas, he just won’t let up. 

First, Christmas is a federal holiday, so kids are technically forced to wear ugly sweaters whether they like it or not. Banks close. Schools close. Even Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar and Grill is closed (yes, I checked), so no Okie comfort food on Christmas Day or pondering the ageless philosophical question, How do you like me now?  I think everyone can agree that our kids deserve a few cookies and a chance to dance like Charlie Brown before facing another dismal Christmas Day without dinner at Toby Keith’s. So, schools can definitely recognize Christmas. They can even sing “Away in a Manger” during the classic stage version of Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer. Apparently, all of this is required by federal law. (Disclaimer, I am not a real doctor or a pretend attorney.) 

But before this gets out of hand, let’s clear up this whole Winter Break versus Christmas Break issue. Calling it Christmas Break makes no sense because no one needs a break from Christmas, but everyone needs a break from winter, at least while global warming drags its feet. Seriously, nothing captures the true spirit of Winter Break better than keeping Tobias Dawn McIntyre fired up. So keep an eye out for Toby, but whatever you do, be sure to call him Tobias when you wish him a Merry Winter Break and Happy New Year!

Tom Deighan is superintendent of Duncan Public Schools. You may email him at  deighantom@gmail.com and read past articles at www.mostlyeducational.com