Eye on KELOLAND: Masks to be required for O’Gorman, older grades in Catholic system

Eye on KELOLAND

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — As schools look ahead to the prospect of returning to school, there can be countless questions. But one way to summarize them all is simply with one word: how. Tonight we turn our focus to Bishop O’Gorman Catholic Schools’ plan for going back– one which hearkens back to a theme that underscores their school system.

In-person learning is the plan for kids at the eight schools comprising Bishop O’Gorman Catholic Schools this fall.

“Our students will have been home for five months,” Bishop O’Gorman Catholic Schools President Kyle Groos said. “Think about that- that’s a half a year home with mom and dad not in a formal educational setting. That’s unprecedented. We don’t know the ramifications of it, we are prepared to do assessments early in the fall to make sure we have understanding and gauge of where our students are at and then we go from there.”

There will be a distance learning option available. Mask use is encouraged for kids in pre-kindergarten through second grade. Sometimes, mask use is going to be expected for them. For kids in third through twelfth grade, mask use is required when distancing is impossible in the building. It’s the same rule for staff. To get an exception, a student or employee will need a note from a doctor.

“We speak from a standpoint love thy neighbor, respect the people you’re around, if I’m masking then I’m protecting you, if you mask you protect me,” Groos said. “Again I go back to, we focus on our goal, and that has been the centerpiece, every time we made a decision, and said okay, what’s going to increase and provide us with the best options or odds to have our students in school with the least amount of interruption to allow education to occur.”

O’Gorman High School Principal Joan Mahoney believes kids there will comply when it comes to masks.

“Our students understand the common good, so I’m hopeful that they’re going to understand that to protect their teachers and vulnerable population even amongst the students, that they’ll do what they need to for the common good,” Mahoney said.

The expert consensus in support of wearing a mask is clear. Still, masks are a contentious topic right now in the United States.

“I think all school administrators are in the same boat with the idea that, regardless of what the plan said, roughly 50% of your people were not going to be okay,” Mahoney said. “So we just have to keep everyone in mind. And it’s all about how we approach it, I believe. I believe there has to be breaks for masks, I believe that we have to, our plan says when social distancing isn’t possible, so definitely we’re looking to provide opportunities throughout the day when social distancing is possible, so that it certainly isn’t our thought that a student is in a mask for eight or nine hours a day, but that we can utilize larger areas, definitely outside.”

“There’s going to be some people that I don’t think we can persuade either way, and we understand that, and I certainly respect where they are,” Groos said. “I just ask that they respect where we are as a school system trying to educate children and doing that in an environment that protects the people teaching them, that’s our teachers, and at the same time, the students as well. Because we will have students in our building who are immune-compromised that will be in the classroom, they won’t necessarily stay home, and that was also another driving factor, so how can we protect each other as we go along the way.”

Mahoney also brings up a concern for thy neighbor.

“Our staff falls, the high school staff, about 60% of them favor the masks being required not recommended because of a lot of reasons,” Mahoney said. “We have some staff that are older, we have some that have family members who are immunocompromised, and I think that even those that didn’t fall on that side, again will understand that this is about taking care of everybody, your neighbor, your fellow staff member.”

And after all, a safe school year is a group project.

“I think families across the Sioux Falls area and across South Dakota have to trust their schools that they’re doing the best that they believe is possible for their students and that this doesn’t become politicized over masks or anything, that we all just do the best we can to ensure that our kids have a better year than we ended last year,” Mahoney said.

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