Meade schools to offer in-school quarantine

During a mixed level journalism class, sophomore Hailey Walker and junior Ryleigh Richter answer each other’s interview questions. Students spread out around the room to meet expectations for group work, which required individuals to maintain as much social distance as possible while wearing masks. Photo courtesy SBHS Media staff

STURGIS — The Meade School District has opted for an in-school quarantine of students and staff who are deemed close contacts of someone who tests positive for COVID-19.

The process since the start of the school year has been to send students home for 14 days if they were in close contact at school with someone who was COVID-19 positive.

But school administrators and the school board realized that protocol could ultimately lead to hundreds of students being quarantined at home.

As of Monday, the Meade School District had 20 COVID-19 positive cases. Here is the breakdown of the current cases:  Seven are at the high school level, 11 at the middle school level and three at the elementary level.

The Meade School Board met in special session Monday to consider proposed changes to the current COVID-19 practices. The new protocol was compiled by Superintendent Don Kirkegaard who said he had patterned it after that of another school district in the state.

Currently the district does tracing of close contacts in its school buildings, then sends a list to the South Dakota Department of Health. The DOH then has the final determination as to whether or not the individual was indeed a close contact under their guidelines.

Students and staff members presumed as a close contact by the district, but not by the DOH are now being allowed to remain in school.

The school board unanimously approved guidelines for the district to follow the DOH’s “Recommendations for Temporary Exclusion from a School Setting” and authorized Kirkegaard to put them in place.  

That means those who have been identified by the school district as a close contact can remain in school but must show no COVID-19 symptoms, wear a mask at all times when they are not able to socially distance, and have their temperature checked twice during the school day for the duration of the 14-day close contact window.

School staff, nurses, parents and school administrators testified during the nearly two-hour discussion about the in-school quarantine.

Many spoke about the need to keep students in the school setting both for optimum learning opportunities and for their mental health.

Registered nurse Hondi Dunn said that for the mental health of students it is important for them to be in school.

“The mental health of these kids is a high concern for me. I know for my kids personally it is,” she said.

Teacher and parent Kamette Keffeler agreed saying it’s difficult to watch students who she characterized as depressed, scared and discouraged over COVID.

“We wouldn’t be in education if we didn’t love kids, and we want the best for them. I feel very strongly that what is best for them is to be in school,” she said.

Sturgis Williams Middle School Principal Chad Hedderman said he wants to make sure that the district is looking out for the mental health of both teachers and those students who are quarantined.

“It’s extremely challenging,” he said. “Having gone through it personally with my own, it’s hard. It’s very, very hard.”

Parent Kassi Barry’s son was quarantined a week ago.

“No fever, no symptoms, no anything. He has been begging to go to school. What 15-year-old boy begs to go to school?” she told the school board via the online Zoom program Monday.

Barry said the virtual learning her son now uses at home for his classes has not gone well.

“His online books were not working. We live 60 miles from town, and I had to make two special trips in to get textbooks and stuff for him,” she said. “He’s begging to go to school and I want him there.”

Parent and Sturgis Elementary School teacher Amy Conover said she believes the school board has been put in a no-win situation concerning what to do concerning COVID close contact exposure.

“We hear the majority of people – teachers, students, parents – saying, ‘keep kids in school.’ There’s no need to send these kids home for 14 days without symptoms if they are coming to school and following the rules,” she said.  

Also Monday, the board unanimously approved guidelines for screening of students that are not considered a close contact, but have shown COVID-19 symptoms.

For students that demonstrate one or more symptoms of COVID-19:

Temperature 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher

Sore throat

New uncontrolled cough that causes difficulty breathing (for students with chronic allergic/asthmatic cough, a change in their cough from baseline)

Diarrhea, vomiting, or abdominal pain

New onset of severe headache, especially with a fever

The student with one or more symptoms of COVID-19, the student will be allowed to return to school after 72 hours if they are symptom free.

The student can return sooner to school if they have a negative COVID-19 test or a medical doctor’s note stating the symptom(s) was due to an illness other than COVID-19.

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