PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — If you plan to go to a volleyball game or attend an arts event at one of six public universities in South Dakota this fall, bring a face covering.

Starting on Aug. 19, all students, staff, faculty and visitors at the public universities will need to wear face coverings inside all public buildings.

The requirement will be reviewed in 30 days. It’s part of a four-level plan to address the coronavirus pandemic at the universities.

The South Dakota Board of Regents Wednesday unanimously approved the plan.

“This allows us to start at pretty high level of safety for our students, staff, faculty and visitors,” said Dr. Michael Wanous, the provost at Northern State University in Aberdeen. “I think this is a really good approach. It’s a consistent, across the board approach.”

Wanous and the provosts from the five other universities, several other officials from campuses and the system’s legal advisor met over the multiple weeks to discuss a fall COVID-19 plan.

The plan was reviewed by the campus presidents and approved by the board.

“This came from the ground up,” said Janelle Toman, director of communications for the Board of Regents.

The plan has four levels with the first level being the least restrictive and level four being the most restrictive. All universities will start on level three.

Here’s level three as explained in the state plan:

Level 3: Face coverings required in all public indoor spaces on campus. If in effect, each institution shall post on its webpage the areas on campus subject to, and the requirements of, the Level 3 protocol, to include the process for requesting an accommodation in accordance with the ADA or other applicable law.

Wanous said NSU will be posting signs on campus about level three. Also, when events, such as a volleyball game or arts event are promoted, the level three face-covering requirement will also be announced.

The plan also explains how the face covering requirement can be enforced.

The plan breaks enforcement into student, staff and visitor enforcement with informal and formal enforcement for both.

A person who is not wearing a required face covering will be asked to do so and if they don’t, they can be asked to leave the campus, according to the enforcement plan.

The most drastic consequences for a student or staff member could be disciplinary action. A visitor could be banned from campus.

“Students, faculty, staff and visitors who fail to comply with the COVID-19 Face Covering
Protocol may be subject to discipline or other adverse action in accordance with applicable BOR
and/or Institutional policy,” enforcement plan said.

Wanous said it’s likely a supply of masks will be available for visitors who may come to campus without a face covering. Masks will also likely be available for a student who gets to class without one, he said.

The plan also includes details for an accommodation for a student to not wear mask that would be handled through university disability services and subsequent required approval.

Each university campus has been developing COVID-19 plans for the 2020-2021 school year, Wanous said.

One questioned he’s been asked repeatedly is if NSU would require masks, Wanous said. The campus already has signs posted asking people to wear masks in buildings.

“We have some students who are high risk,” Wanous said.

NSU also has faculty members who may be of higher risk, including because of age, Wanous said.

“I think this has a very positive effect on morale, especially for faculty and staff,” he said.

“The campuses really want to be on top of this and be as proactive as they can be, ” Toman said.

While all campuses will start on the level three this fall, the plan also has flexibility.

It was also approved with the understanding that at some point during the school year, some campuses may need to be at a different level than others, Toman said.

The COVID-19 situation on individual campuses can depend on the coronavirus situation in the community, Toman said. Campuses may need to adjust to the local situation, Toman said.

Campuses have already started implementing 2020-2021 coronavirus plans from adjusting how prospective students visit campus to how daily operations are handled.

Toman said plexiglass has been installed in offices to protect staff and the public and arrangements are being made for classroom instruction.

While COVID-19 will impact a student’s year at a public universities, so far, it doesn’t appear that the pandemic will have a large negative impact on enrollment.

In the fall of 2019, there were 34,520 students enrolled on the campuses. The number is a head count which includes all students, even those taking one course, Toman said.

“There is a sense that students in South Dakota public universities want to get back to campus,” Wanous said. “Even prospective students want to get started on college on campus.”

KELOLAND News asked school districts in the areas to share Returning to Learn plans; review the responses online