After a relaxing holiday break, students in Pawhuska public schools will head back to class one day early on Tuesday, Jan. 2.
The district intended to start the New Year on Wednesday, Jan. 3, but back in August, classes at the district’s school campus were delayed by a more than a week for elementary students and nearly two weeks for junior high and high school students.
The first day of class for all students was originally supposed to be Aug. 17, but two geothermal wells on the Pawhuska Public School campus were found to be seeping methane gas.
As a precautionary and preventive measure, steps were taken to plug nearby oil wells and to install a venting system designed to prevent any gas seeping from the geothermal wells into the school buildings.
Janet Neufeld, district superintendent, said that the school board examined ways how to make up the lost time and determined the best option was to use prescheduled professional development days as time in the classroom, Neufeld said.
“Provided we don’t have any more days of canceled school, we’ll get out about the same time,” she said.
Pawhuska students are required to take 1,080 hours of curriculum in the academic calendar.
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.
“As a result of the gas seep, we had an opportunity to work closely with federal, state and tribal officials and gained a stronger relationship,” said Neufeld. “I think that’s a tribute to all of these groups that came together and solved a problem.”
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. Junior high and high school students returned to classes three days later, when the high school building was given the all clear by authorities.