Two teachers and a parent made public comments to the school board Monday night expressing concerns over the district’s COVID-19 precautions and cleanliness.
The Rapid City Area Schools district website with COVID-19 information was last updated Nov. 4, but it shows nearly 1,000 students and staff are in quarantine while 104 students and 30 staff have an active case. Grandview Elementary, South, Southwest and West middle schools and both Central and Stevens high schools are in Level 3.
Lance Pearson, a teacher and wrestling coach at Central High School, said he struggled with the school’s recent move to Level 3, distance learning, and had heard from fellow teachers that they’d seen an increase in failing grades or missing assignments from students even before the level change.
Pearson said teachers are working with students to get their grades caught up, but asked the school board whether COVID-19 cases in the school were related to classrooms and activities.
“I’m trying to be as flexible as I can be with all my students,” Pearson said. “As a freshman football coach, I know we had COVID-19 go through a few of our players there at the end of the season. People think ‘wrestling, holy cow, you’re going to spread (COVID-19) like wildfire.”
Pearson said he believed some students may be safer in the classroom because “we see the kids that get it have gotten it from a family member.”
Board member Brian Johnson echoed Pearson’s comments later in the meeting and said if the district thinks masks are the answer, it follows that the “safest place to be is in school because they are required to wear masks.”
The next public comment came from a teacher who identified herself under the alias of Virginia in the meeting because she said she fears “intimidation and censorship that has been happening within our buildings.”
Virginia shared concerns about the district’s plan to clean school buildings on Friday while students learn from home. She said the community was “promised and assured” the classrooms would be cleaned, but that this “is simply not happening to the level that’s expected.”
“Teachers want to be heard and understood, but we are being misrepresented as being OK with everything that’s happening,” she said. “Teachers are being silenced by intimidation and threats of disciplinary action, which is why I’m speaking to you with an alias at the moment.”
When Virginia mentioned she was using an alias, board member Jim Hansen asked her to stop speaking because she needed to give her full, real name to speak during public comment, per board meeting rules. Hansen said Virginia could email her with any further concerns anonymously.
The board also passed a first reading of a new grading policy, which will move to second and final readings in subsequent meetings.
Superintendent Lori Simon said that following Monday night’s meeting, the board and district will have further discussion on a potential change to a 10 point grading scale and will seek feedback from high school staff and families on the change.
From there, Simon said the district will discuss further and determine whether or not to make a recommendation to change the district's grading scale to the school board.