Pawhuska Public Schools amends ‘Return to Learn’ plan at special meeting

Despite a spike in the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Osage County, Pawhuska Public Schools will still start in-person instruction on Aug. 20 with a mask mandate. 

“The CDC contact tracers told me that every school that opened without masks saw a spike within a week,” Superintendent David Cash said at an Aug. 18 special school board meeting. “That tells me that the kids are the conduit, so we need to be cognizant of our role in the community.”

The Pawhuska Public Schools’ board of education voted unanimously at its special Aug. 18 meeting to proceed with the district’s “Return to Learn” plan with two adjustments in light of amended recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The district will still require face coverings for staff and students. However, students will be able to take masks off in the classroom if social distancing can be maintained. With one-fourth of the district’s students opting for virtual instruction, Cash said most of the secondary classes will be able to observe social distancing, but not all of them.

“If we’ve got a middle school science class with 25 kids, those masks have to stay on,” he said.

Students in pre-kindergarten, kindergarten and first grade will have some additional flexibilities about wearing masks, with teachers asked to make it a “teachable moment.”

Additionally, students exhibiting symptoms will now be allowed to return to school after 24 fever-free, medication-free hours instead of 48 as originally listed.

Most of the recent spike in the county’s COVID-19 case count is attributed to an outbreak at the Dick Conner Correctional Facility in Hominy, where more than 100 inmates have tested positive. At the time of the school board meeting, eight of the county’s confirmed cases are in Pawhuska.

However, as per the Oklahoma State Department of Health, those figures do not include positives from the rapid result tests unless the patient has an additional diagnostic test done.

Since in-person instruction started on Aug. 3, almost three dozen districts and individual school sites of all sizes across Oklahoma have publicly disclosed that they have had positive COVID-19 cases arise among students, faculty or in some cases, both.

On Aug. 19, Bartlesville Public Schools confirmed that 10 employees and two students across three of its sites are currently in quarantine. Barnsdall Public Schools has already had to delay the start of school due to faculty members testing positive.

“There’s still a possibility that we have to go all virtual in 2-4 weeks anyway, even with a mask mandate and social distancing,” Dr. Cameron Rumsey said. “If we want to keep our kids in school, we have to take some precautions.

“We have to have a mandate. You’re not wearing a mask for yourself, it’s a public health concern. If one person with COVID doesn’t wear a mask, it doesn’t help anyone else in the room.”