UPDATED 9:21 a.m.
MITCHELL, S.D. (KELO) — After hearing plenty of input during a special meeting, members of the Mitchell School Board voted 5-0 to require masks in school district buildings.
Deb Olson, the school board’s president, told KELOLAND News the mask requirement is for the hours 7 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and begins on Sept. 1 and will remain in effect until the Nov. 8 board meeting.
Olson also said masks will be required on school buses anytime students are present as well as indoor student activities like concerts and volleyball matches outside of the 7 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. time frame.
The COVID-19 protocols may change during a special school board meeting Monday night.
The five-person school board scheduled a special meeting to consider changes to the Return to School Protocols. Superintendent Dr. Joe Graves said he holds weekly meetings with members of the local health care systems in Mitchell. Last week, Graves said health officials cited concerns from the Delta variant and some hospitals in southern states dealing with strained hospitals.
“The recommendation came, in order for us to get ahead of this, we should look at the possibility of reimposing a mask mandate,” Graves told KELOLAND News Monday morning. “I related that to my board members, who then elected to have a special board meeting.”
South Dakota is reporting a seven-day average of 372 new COVID-19 cases, up from a seven-day average of 58 at the start of August. Davison County, where Mitchell is located, is reporting a 15.3% PCR test-positivity rate with 58 active cases.
Last year, the Mitchell School District required masks on school property throughout the year. This year, the Return to School Protocols approved on Aug. 9 allowed for masks to be permitted, but “not required.”
“Not so much deja vu as just tedious,” Graves said about holding another school board meeting on COVID-19 protocols. “It becomes a drain on people. It’s become a tough situation and one we’re all trying to make our way through.”
Graves specifically noted school COVID-19 protocols will always be subject to review and changed.
For this meeting, board members have reserved an hour for public comment on the COVID-19 protocols. Graves added board members have been receiving emails, phone calls and messages from parents leading up to the meeting.
“There’s been no absence of people’s ability to have input on this thing,” Graves said. “The biggest challenge right now is that so many people have taken very strong positions on opposite sides. There isn’t a lot of common ground. In fact, there’s almost no middle ground at this point.”
KELOLAND’s Tom Hanson spoke with Avera’s Director of Infection Prevention Tiffany Peterson, State Epidemiologist Joshua Clayton and Sanford’s Chief Physician Dr. Jeremy Cauwels who all agree that masks work.
Mitchell’s COVID-19 protocols require parents to screen students for school, social distancing practices are in place for entering and exiting school buildings. You can view the full list on the Mitchell School District’s website.
“We’re trying,” Graves said. “We are keeping the health of the children in mind. We are gonna try to do our best to act in the interest of all the kids.”
Graves said options of different mask requirements for different school buildings were discussed as options, but added members of the health care community said a school-by-school mask requirement wouldn’t assist the hospital in slowing down the spread.
“The transmission would still be occurring in large part without the masking of all children in school,” Graves said. “It’s a tough situation, but it’s a tough situation everywhere. We’re all just going to have to work through it together.”
KELOLAND News will update this story with any COVID-19 changes made during Monday’s meeting.