Pawhuska and Barnsdall public schools began offering breakfast and lunch meals Monday for students, due to the statewide public school closure until at least April 6 out of concern about the COVID-19 pandemic.

Even as the student meal programs were getting started, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister was preparing to request on Wednesday, March 25, that school buildings remain closed for the rest of the school year, with distance learning taking the place of normal in-classroom instruction, as of April 6.

Pawhuska Public Schools is offering student meals on a grab-n-go basis. The circle drive at Pawhuska Elementary will serve breakfast from 8- 9 a.m. and lunch from 11 a.m. - 12:30 pm. All students 18 years old and under will eat free.

Pawhuska Public Schools will also deliver meals to these areas: the Meadow Glenn Addition; St. Paul and Old Hwy 99; 9th and Prudom; Sunset and Bayliss; and 17th and Bighill.

Meals will arrive at these locations in a school vehicle at approximately 8:30 a.m. for breakfast and 11:30 a.m. for lunch. Delivery meals will be provided free for students 18 years old and under. This service will continue while school is out for the COVID-19 event.

Beverly Moore, assistant superintendent of Pawhuska schools, said that school administrators understand this is a difficult situation for the community. March 23 was supposed to be the first day of school following spring break, but classes have been canceled for two additional weeks — until at least April 6, and may be canceled for the rest of the school year.

“Pawhuska Public Schools realizes this is a difficult time for our families in our community,” Moore said in a brief statement about the program. “Our child nutrition staff is committed to providing lunches for our children and students in our community. Twice daily we will provide grab-n-go meals beginning March 23.”

Jeff Lay, superintendent of Barnsdall Public Schools, said breakfast and a sack lunch will be provided between 8:30 and 9:30 a.m. Monday through Thursday as a grab-n-go at the elementary school cafeteria, and the Assembly of God Church, and delivery will be provided to bus route students if their parents contacted Lay to request the meal service.

Moore clarified Monday afternoon that parents who show up at meal distribution sites must have their child or children with them. She explained this is a National School Lunch Program rule. States had asked for a waiver, but it had not been granted yet, she said.

Moore also said Monday that beginning Tuesday, Pawhuska would be able to distribute Wednesday’s breakfast along with Tuesday’s lunch. The school district would also make the Wednesday morning lunch drops, she said, just in case someone wasn’t present for the lunch pickup on Tuesday. This practice, of giving out both lunch and the next day’s breakfast at the same time, will continue, she said.

Lay said meal distribution went well Monday, as it got started.

“We served 34 meals, with 9 of those being on bus routes,” he said in an email Monday afternoon. “I suspect that the number will rise as parents learn more about how the service works, as well as more and more families potentially losing income from lost jobs during this pandemic.”

State Superintendent Hofmeister said in a Monday news release that, “the Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE) has secured federal waivers removing the burden of statewide assessments and permitting the delivery or curbside pick-up of nutritional meals for qualifying students for the remainder of the school year.”