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Meade schools to require masks when school starts Sept. 8
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Meade schools to require masks when school starts Sept. 8

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Students and staff in the Meade School District will begin classes Sept. 8 with face masks required at all times on school buses and in the school buildings when social distancing is not an option.

The Meade 46-1 District School Board voted Monday to approve its back-to-school plan, beginning with phase two, or orange, precautions in place until at least Oct. 2.

The plan is organized in three phases. The first, green, would strongly recommend masks in school buildings, but require them on buses; the second, orange, would require masks in school buildings when social distancing is not possible; and the third, red, would be virtual learning.

The criteria for each phase would be considered based on positive COVID-19 cases in each school building, and not the district as a whole.

Interim Superintendent Don Kirkegaard outlined the revised plan to the board, where a school would be in the green phase with zero to low COVID-19 cases in the buildings.

The school building would move to the orange phase if 1% to 3% of students and staff had active cases of the coronavirus, and would move to the red phase if active cases rose above 3%.

Phase two, or the orange phase, would also limit spectators at sporting events, the number of visitors in administrative areas, and cancel field trips, assemblies and other large gatherings if social distancing can’t be achieved.

In both green and orange phases, students and staff should do a health screening and temperature check at home. Those with a fever of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or greater should stay home, and wouldn’t be allowed back in school until three days after symptoms are gone.

Kirkegaard said even though the number of active cases within the school population would indicate beginning the academic year in phase one, he recommends starting at phase two because of the growing cases of COVID-19 within Meade County.

"If you were to adopt the plan today without some additional modifications, we don't have active cases in any school that would be an orange," Kirkegaard said to the board. "I'm still going to recommend that you strongly consider orange because of the community spread in our district and our state."

Board member Tracy Konst voted against opening school in phase two because the number of active coronavirus cases within the school population supports phase one.

"Of course, everyone has their different opinions on where we are at, and our actual number of kids who have been sick or have had symptoms, I don't think it's as high as our community spread has been," Konst said. "But we adopted a plan, and now we're wanting to veer from this plan. We've adopted this plan, it's a solid plan. I think we should stick to the numbers and go with the plan."

Board President Joseph Urbaniak, and board members Holly Good and Charlie Wheeler all said the school district is trying to keep everyone as safe as possible when opening school. They agreed with Kirkegaard that because of the community spread, it is better to start school with a higher level of protection.

The South Dakota State Medical Association strongly recommends districts require educators, staff and students to wear face coverings and follow CDC guidelines, according to a letter from July.

“In agreement with CDC guidelines, the SDSMA believes that everyone should wear a cloth face covering when leaving their homes, regardless of having symptoms of COVID-19, with the exception of young children under the age of 2, anyone who has trouble breathing, is unconscious, incapacitated, or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance,” the letter states.

In phase one, students would be asked to have two clean face masks at all times, regardless of grade. One would be provided by the school and the other brought from home.

Face coverings would still be required for all bus drivers and students who ride the bus, along with food service workers.

Parents are encouraged to drive their students to and from school to reduce COVID-19 risk.

Crowds would be limited during student activities, like sports. The high school would have family or friends on a four-person list for whoever is on the roster. At the middle school, bleachers would be taped off and only family would be allowed.

Season passes would not be available for purchase as some people may not be able to attend if they aren't on the list. If the district decides to open up later in the year, that may change.

Contact Nathan Thompson at nathan.thompson@rapidcityjournal.com.

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