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Local Experts, Local Heroes During COVID

January 21, 2022 by Tom Deighan

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 and read past articles at


By grace, 

Tom Deighan


Duncan Public Schools

Office Number 580-255-0686


Public educators welcome all . . . serve all . . . love all.