Education

Pawhuska school board adopts ‘Return to Learn’ plan, requires masks

PAWHUSKA — At least for now, Pawhuska Public Schools will start classes in person on Aug. 20 with a mask mandate for students and staff.

However, school board member Mike Tolson acknowledged at its Aug. 10 meeting that the board may have to revisit the issue in a special meeting before the first day of school, depending on the recommendation of local public health officials and trends regarding the community’s COVID-19 case counts.

“If this progression continues over the next 10 days, what we see and decide today could look dramatically different next week,” Tolson said. “Such that … what we decide today might be worthy of making a different decision next week, depending on what the data tells us.”

Dr. Cameron Rumsey told the board that both his clinic and the emergency room at Pawhuska Hospital have experienced a sharp uptick in cases – up to 15 per day – that are not reflected in the data published by the Oklahoma State Department of Health.

As of the time of the board meeting, OSDH only had five active cases listed for Pawhuska. However, a spokesman for OSDH confirmed that its published case counts do not include positives from rapid results tests unless those patients follow up with an additional diagnostic test.

“The data is moving so quickly,” Rumsey said. “I wrote down some numbers from this morning and they’ve changed just today.”

With that information, district officials have formed a working group to review public health conditions and recommend adjustments to school operations as needed.

“Flexibility will be the word of the day,” Superintendent David Cash said. “We’re going to take these precautions, but if things look like we could be a cause of making more harm to our community, we have to do the responsible thing.”

When asked by the board, both Cash and Rumsey declined to suggest a specific number of cases that would trigger shutting down the school. Instead, they told the board to look at case trends and individual scenarios first.

In the interim, the district is still going to start classes on Aug. 20 using the “Return to Learn” plan formally adopted at the board’s Aug. 10 meeting. Among the mitigation strategies incorporated in it are using Mondays as distance learning days for students who have opted for in-person instruction.

In an effort to eliminate a potential frequent touchpoint, the district’s water fountains have been disabled, so students and staff are encouraged to bring their own filled water bottle from home.

Additionally, parents bringing items to campus will be asked to drop them off in a tub by the front door rather than go in and out of the building.

Along with more than 100 hand sanitizers stationed across the buildings, the elementary schools and high school will be disinfected daily using special foggers. Special HEPA filters are being installed in every classroom as well.

As of the Aug. 10 school board meeting, one-fourth of Pawhuska’s students are enrolled in the district’s distance learning option. Cash told the school board that because of those participation numbers, most of the in-person course sections at Pawhuska High School will have 10 students or less, thus making it easier to maintain social distancing.

“It’ll be very rare that we have 20 kids or more in the classroom,” he said.