Pawhuska preps for start of school year

Robert Smith
Pawhuska Journal-Capital

Pawhuska Public Schools is preparing for the start of a new academic year on Aug. 19, as a new wave of COVID-19 infections poses a threat to public health.

Pawhuska school enrollment is scheduled for Aug. 10-11, from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the Pawhuska Elementary School cafeteria. A preschool open house is scheduled for the evening of Aug. 18.

Many of the new infections are being attributed to what is called the "Delta Variant" of COVID-19, which is said to spread more easily than earlier strains of the illness, and which medical personnel have said appears to have more effect on children than earlier strains.

Superintendent David Cash recently sent a letter to parents, in which he clarified for them that, in accordance with Oklahoma state law, face coverings will not be required for Pawhuska students or staff. The school district is, however, recommending that persons who have not been vaccinated against COVID-19 wear masks to protect themselves and others.

Cash also alerted parents in his letter that the Oklahoma State Department of Health has said it will not recommend quarantines for people who are vaccinated and symptom-free (including students and teachers), even if they have been exposed to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.

On the other hand, in compliance with federal government policy, students and staff members riding school buses will be required to wear masks while on those buses, to protect them from potential COVID-19 infections.

Cash pledged to parents that the school district's staff will continue to deep clean and sanitize school facilities. Hand washing will be encouraged and hand sanitizer will be made readily available.

In his letter to parents, Cash added that eligible staff members and students (with parental consent) will be encouraged, but not required, to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

"Health officials agree this is the best way to slow the spread of the virus and avoid disruption to the school year," Cash said in his letter. He encouraged parents to contact the Osage County Health Department at 918-287-3740 for information about vaccinations.

Cash and Assistant Superintendent Beverly Moore told the Journal-Capital that the Pawhuska Board of Education will likely discuss at its next meeting the district's plan for the resumption of school. Cash said it appears Gov. Kevin Stitt is unlikely to take action to declare an emergency in regard to the spread of the Delta Variant.

"At the end of the day, nothing is going to change unless the Governor declares an emergency," Cash said. "He's indicated he's not changing. That's just where we're at.'

Moore said the school district has been receiving calls about its plans for responding to the COVID-19 outbreak, and that she understands the governor has been receiving comments on the subject.