School officials review opening plan

Robert Smith

Superintendent David Cash on Monday evening provided details to the Pawhuska Board of Education regarding the school district’s plan for reopening school buildings for the fall semester. Pawhuska Public Schools is scheduled to begin the 2020-21 academic year Aug. 20.

“We need to be prepared when, or if, something happens,” Cash told the board. He was referring to the possibility of adverse COVID-19 events. “We’re going to be flexible based on every situation.”

Cash clarified that the reopening plan details he was presenting Monday represented the latest, up-to-date thinking of Pawhuska school administrators. He also emphasized that changes to the plan could be made at any time, based on further developments in the overall COVID-19 situation.

The reopening plan, as of Monday evening, included offering a traditional schedule of classes, to be held in school buildings, from Tuesday through Friday during the 2020-21 school year. Mondays are to be virtual school days for all students. Those virtual days on Mondays are intended to allow the school district to make preparations to respond to any new changes in the COVID-19 situation at the beginning of each week.

Parents of students attending Pawhuska’s public schools will be given three options regarding the enrollment and instruction of their children, Cash said. Those options include a traditional school option, in which students will be enrolled unless their parents decide to opt out; a blended learning option that is planned for students in grades 6-12, to allow them to flexibly make transition between traditional school and distance learning in response to health concerns; and a completely distance learning option.

Cash told the board that the current thinking of Pawhuska school administrators is that perhaps 10% to 15% of families in the school district will choose the entirely distance learning option. One of the effects of parents making those decisions to move entirely in the direction of distance learning will be smaller class sizes in school buildings, Cash said. That, in turn, will likely make it easier for the school district to implement social distancing guidelines.

Cash and Assistant Superintendent Beverly Moore explained that faculty members who are known by administrators to have compromised immune systems have been moved into positions where they can work as instructors for students taking virtual classes. The administrators added that the popularity with the community of some of the instructors who will be handling distance learning classes may lead more parents to choose blended schedules for their children.

Another key element of the reopening plan, as currently drafted, is that the school district will notify the public of any positive tests for COVID-19. The school district will respect the privacy of anyone who tests positive by not publicly identifying them, but the public will be told there has been a positive test.

If there is a positive test for COVID-19 among students or staff members, any other students or staff members who were in contact with the infected person will be subject to quarantine, and the entire affected school will be placed on virtual instruction for the next two days. During those two days, the entire school building will be disinfected and cleaned.

If there is a second positive test at a school, that entire school will be subject to quarantine for 14 days, according to the draft plan.

Temperature checks, daily disinfection of school rooms, and deep cleaning on Mondays are also elements of the plan. The school district is also making plans to be able to respond appropriately if state education officials decide to require masks in schools, Cash said.

“We have not been told that, but we have already ordered,” Cash said.