Eye on KELOLAND: Running schools during COVID-19


Schools across KELOLAND are making their way through the global pandemic in their own ways. Some are switching to stricter guidelines while others are easing up their rules. Schools in Custer and Hill City have considered it all.

Hill City Superintendent Blake Gardner, says school is running fluid since resuming classes on August 17th.

“We’ve had to re-examine our protocols daily as we go along,” Blake Gardner, Superintendent of Hill City School District, said.

So far, his district has had three positive COVID-19 cases. All of which have recovered.

“I know it’s something every district in South Dakota is eventually going to have to tackle and so I feel like we’ve been lucky to kind of watch and learn from the other districts,” Gardner said.

Gardner says students and staff have been doing a good job of social distancing, wearing masks when they can’t social distance, disinfecting and washing their hands.

“At this point and it can change daily, we have not had a breakout, we have not had to shut down. We have added custodians, they’re doing more cleaning. We are just really being vigilant with the basic stuff that we can do to make sure that we are offering the safest, cleanest, best environment for our kids,” Gardner said.

Gardner says when a student or staff member catches the virus that student must quarantine for at least 10 days. The school district then works with the Department of Health to do contact tracing, so they can reach out to anyone who was close to that person.

The same goes for the Custer School District. Right now, it’s running in Category One.

“Which was, we did protocols for social distancing and hygiene and education for our kids and things like that. Our program has three categories, one, two and three, and the next stage we would have is all of our students be masked,” Mark Naugle, Superintendent of Custer School District, said.

There have only been eight COVID-19 positive cases in the Custer School District so Superintendent Mark Naugle says they have not had to consider that option yet.

“So if we have cases that we know are being spread or that we can trace back to coming from the classroom and spreading to classmates, that could move us to level two,” Naugle said.

School Staff and students are taking health precautions by putting up shields in classrooms, wiping tables down, and sanitizing.

“We’ve approved a bid for a contractor to put in a different air filtration system that will help clean our air better and is effective on COVID and allergens and things like that,” Naugle said.

While the Custer School District is made up of about 900 students and 130 staff, the Hill City School District is made up of about 500 students and 71 staff. Superintendent Gardner says that because Hill City is a smaller district it will be run a little differently.

“It made our decision so much easier just to be back in a traditional 5 day-a-week setting and I think our kids have benefited from that and most of our stakeholders are very happy that we are in that setting,” Gardner said.

While the number of COVID-19 cases fluctuates across the state, schools, like Custer and Hill City, say they have to be flexible. They are taking the pandemic one class at a time.

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