After nearly a two-week delay, Pawhuska junior high and high school students were back at their school desks last Wednesday. The first day of class was originally supposed to be Aug. 17, but two geothermal wells were found to be purging natural gas.

As a precautionary and preventive measure, steps were taken to plug the nearby oil wells and to install a venting system designed to prevent any gas seeping into the geothermal wells from entering the school.

Principal Laurie Lee described the first day of class as “terrific.”

“The students and teachers were ready to be back and everything went very smoothly,” said Lee. “There were no issues.”

She expressed her gratitude for students and parents understanding the district’s problem and the delay in classes starting.

“The main concern was that everyone wanted to make sure that we were being very cautious and not rushing anything and making sure all facilities were safe before we brought our students back on campus,” said Lee.

“The voice of concern was out there of course, but no one was too upset that there was a delay, and I think they just understood that we were taking extra precautions.”

The plan to deal with the gas purging problem was developed jointly by the Oklahoma Water Resources Board, the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, the Osage Nation Mineral Council, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The Oklahoma State Fire Marshal provided a final inspection before the schools were allowed to open.

The Indian Camp Elementary and Pawhuska Elementary School began classes Aug. 28, after environmental testing showed there were no air quality issues or hazardous conditions at those two sites.

Indian Camp Elementary and Pawhuska Elementary School buildings house students in grades pre-k through sixth. Pawhuska High School serves seventh through 12th grades.

Janet Neufeld, district superintendent, said the school year has been off to a great start, thanks to the patience and support of parents and the overall community.

“Hats off the the Pawhuska School District for staying strong during the challenging school year start,” Neufeld stated.

As far as making up the for hours lost in the classroom, she said that the district has time built into the schedule, and if it falls short of the 1,080 hours required in the academic calendar, school officials will decide how to make up the time appropriately.

“The district and the board negotiate the calendar days, and the building principals are responsible for the hours and minutes and documenting that to the state,” she said.

“It is too early for me to answer options for making up time by adding minutes, as we have almost the entire school year yet and inclement weather could occur in the fall, winter or spring. Our building principals will make those decisions as they arrive.”

She also emphasized the importance of students having a productive and well-rounded education.

“Above all, we need to focus on the students learning and are they receiving the instructional time they need to accomplish the goals for their grade level,” she said. “I’m hoping everyone keeps that at the forefront, so we don’t shortchange our kids.”