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Douglas schools will require masks starting Monday

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The Douglas School District now requires masking for students and staff due to an increase in COVID-19 cases in the district.

The Douglas school board on Aug. 23 decided that masking protocols would become mandatory if the number of active cases among students and staff reached 1.5% of the population. As of Sept. 8, the District’s active cases reached that threshold, and Douglas is encouraging all staff and students to wear masks until they become mandatory on Sept. 13. The District asks everyone to provide their own masks.

As of Sept. 9, when the Douglas administration decided to make masks a requirement, there were around 50 cases throughout the District. The threshold to move to masking protocol is 48 cases.

The Douglas Board of Education will meet Monday night to make revisions to its back-to-school plan, namely the parameters to move between phases. The board will also approve how long the mask mandate will last. Douglas Superintendent Kevin Case said he anticipates re-evaluating mask protocols every two weeks.

Case said the District has been evaluating the situation based on the internal population’s rate of infection rather than Pennington County at large.

“We’re looking at how [COVID] impacts the operations of the District and how we can go about keeping students and staff safe. It’s a fluid situation; it looks different than last year,” Case told the Journal. “We’re making the best decisions we can to keep students and staff safe. Our main goal is to keep learning face to face. We’re going to do everything we can to keep school in-person.”

One of the operational metrics the District is keeping tabs on is the number of available substitutes. While Douglas is not currently experiencing a substitute shortage like Rapid City Area Schools, Case said it could become an issue if cases in the Douglas district continue to climb.

On Thursday, when masks were encouraged but not yet mandated, Case said he noticed more people wearing masks than last week. The numbers varied by building, but he said there was an overall noticeable increase in masking. He estimated around 95% of staff is masked up.

Elsewhere in South Dakota, both Mitchell and Huron school boards implemented mask mandates for their districts due to increasing infection rates in those communities.

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