SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — In just under six weeks, students in the Sioux Falls School District are set to return to school. But with the COVID-19 pandemic ongoing, a petition started by a district teacher is asking for specific steps to take place before kids go back to in-person schooling. As of late Friday night, it already had more than 1,800 signatures.
The petition seeks remote learning to happen until at least two straight weeks have passed without any new cases of COVID-19 in the city. The petition also asks for masks to be mandatory for students and staff, if that is the recommendation of health officials, once in-person schooling resumes. Right now, the Sioux Falls School District aims for the first day of school on August 27 to be traditional, with cloth face coverings encouraged for students and all staff, with some staff having to wear a face covering. Garfield Elementary School fifth-grade teacher Nick Jackson started the petition.
“Started it after seeing the school district’s plan so far on how to return to school, and just after talking with a number of teachers, just not feeling quite comfortable enough with that extent of the plan,” Jackson said.
He says the petition’s 14-day-aim can happen.
“I think that asking 14 days of no new cases is a huge goal and a big requirement,” Jackson said. “But I also think it’s doable, I mean it’s going to take a lot of community action and a lot of support and a lot of bold leadership as well. But in talking with other teachers and families and myself, we don’t feel comfortable going back to school until we know there aren’t going to be COVID cases in the school.”
Lincoln High School teacher Jackie Beilke is one of the people who signed the petition.
“We’re only as strong as the first unmasked, unknowing, infected COVID person,” Beilke said. “And so that spread can affect students, that can affect faculty, and then that also goes out into the community.”
“As a teacher, my number one goal is to make sure my students are safe every single day, and I do not in good conscience feel like I can go back and keep them safe with the current situation,” Jackson said.
Before 2020, it was easy to take the launch of a new school year for granted. This year has upended that.
“As teachers, we desperately want to return to school,” Jackson said. “This is, I’m going into my 13th year of education, and this is my passion. This is a huge part of the core of me, and I want to be back, but I need to be back safely, and my students and families need to be back safely.”