SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — The start of school is less than two weeks away for some school districts and one KELOLAND school is looking to require masks for students and staff.
The Vermillion School Board will vote to finalize its plan on Monday, Aug. 9 but during this week’s meeting school board members gave support to starting the school year with mask requirements.
“The board is moving more toward starting the school year with masks required in the district,” Vermillion School Board member Shane Nordyke said during a special meeting on Monday. “That seems to be the gist of where we are heading.”
Nordyke said the school district would require masks until testing or vaccination thresholds are set and met for each school building. Vermillion’s first day of school starts Aug. 19.
“Anything we would approve would still be subject to modification if warranted,” Vermillion School Board President Doug Peterson said at the start of the nearly two-hour meeting, which you can view online.
Vermillion Superintendent Damon Alvey said parents wanted to know which way school board members were “leaning” to make a decision on where they would send their kids for school based on that.
“We want our public to have an opportunity to comment on this,” Alvey said.
Alvey pointed out the South Dakota High School Activities Association will have no mitigation plans for the fall sport seasons and wanted to know if the Vermillion School Board would look at having its own mitigation measures in place.
Vermillion School Board Carol Voss-Ward said because of the lack of availability of vaccines for students under the age of 12 she’d like to see masks required at elementary schools for students and staff.
“We are putting parents in a position to either send their kids to school in an environment that is not as safe as it could be or we’re having them be out of school for extended periods of time if they are a close contact,” Voss-Ward said. “For those schools where the vaccine isn’t available to these students, I’m supportive of a mask mandate.”
Voss-Ward added the middle school is “complicated with the different ages” but she supports a mask mandate at the middle school as well.
Vermillion School Board member Jim Peterson noted there’s no mask mandates from the city of Vermillion or at the University of South Dakota at this time.
Nordyke said she agreed with Voss-Ward about a mask mandate until a vaccination threshold was met and younger kids could receive the vaccine.
Alvey said if masks are going to be required, further mitigation measures will need to be added.
“Basically we’d have to go back and look at last year’s plan and bring many of those mitigations as well,” Alvey said.
Alvery added there’s a remote learning option through Black Hills online for families that don’t want to attend school in the Vermillion School District. He said if there’s enough illness in the school district, teachers could flip to a remote learning option.
“Our kids will have an education in some capacity regardless of the spread in the community,” Alvey said.
Further discussion and final decision will continue before Monday’s school board meeting.
No masks common for many S.D. schools this fall
There’ll be no mask requirements for many S.D. school districts that have responded to KELOLAND Return to Learning survey
So far, 17 of 18 schools responding to a KELOLAND Return to Learning Survey have said masks will not be required for staff or students. Vermillion was the one school saying a deicision will be made by Aug. 9.
Twelve schools responded “no” when asked if the school district will require masks for staff or students.
Brookings Superintendent Dr. Klint Willert said “Not at this time. In the proposed plan, masks would be contingent upon the designated level of COVID impact.”
Tea Area School District Superintendent Jennifer Lowery said “The COVID Response Team will make a recommendation and the Board will determine in August.”
Belle Fourche Superintendent Dr. Steve Willard said “face coverings are highly recommended when in close proximity to others.”
The Sioux Falls School District continues to hear feedback on its Continue to Learn plan where masks would be optional. Below is a statement from the Sioux Falls School District.
“The first draft of the Continue to Learn (C2L) Plan was built upon the Summer 2021 Learning Plan. We are not able to comment on the feedback at this time as we are still in the initial stages of collecting responses. Between now and the next School Board Meeting on August 9th, we will take time to carefully sift through that information and take all perspectives into account and modify the plan as needed. A summary of the feedback will be presented at the August 9th Board Meeting. We look forward to examining the feedback to see what our community feels is the best practice for our upcoming school year.”