LEAD — The top discussion topics being masks and busing, the Lead-Deadwood School Board adopted a back-to-school plan Tuesday amidst the COVID-19 pandemic agreeing the document will remain fluid and choosing to move ahead with the original school start date of Sept. 2, where mask use among students and staff will be strongly suggested, but not mandated by school officials.
“I don’t know if it will ever be done,” said School District Superintendent Dr. Dan Leikvold in prefacing his recommendations to the school board. “I think it will continue to be flexible and fluid and a living document certainly up until the start of school and also well into the school year.”
Leikvold said approval of the plan allows for parents and students to make an educated decision on whether or not they will return to school. A survey asking respondents to indicate one of three choices: back to school as normal with modifications, synchronous remote learning, or home school will be sent out this week.
Busing was also a topic of discussion and survey respondents will also be asked to indicate whether or not busing is a necessity for their children.
“We think we can continue our bus routes and social distance. However, the guidelines are everybody has to wear a mask, everybody’s in assigned seats, and everybody needs to reserve a spot beforehand so we can put together a seating chart,” Leikvold said. “And they reserve their spot for two weeks. Then they need to re-up. Those are the guidelines. And if people don’t want to follow them, they can’t ride the bus.”
The decision to adopt the plan without mandating masks was a split 3-2, with school board members Tera Mau and President Suzanne Rogers casting dissenting votes.
Mau said she would like to see students also required to wear masks when passing classes and at recess.
“The issue, too, is whether or not the kids are getting sick and them not being sick, but what they’re carrying home to mom and dad,” Mau said.
Rogers said that if the school district is going to say that one of the most effective means in preventing illness is to wear a mask, then they should be mandated.
“What I got from email conversations with people is 10 to 1, they wanted required masks,” Rogers said. “I had two people say they didn’t … if we want to reopen the school, and we want to be as normal as we can, I think it’s important to consider requiring masks.”
School board member Tim Madsen, who made the successful motion to accept the back to school policy as written, said masks are required at some retail outlets.
“Just because it’s required, doesn’t mean it happens,” he said. “I think strongly encouraged is the way to go … pretty soon, with the administrators and school faculty, pretty soon all you’re doing is mask policing.”
School Board Member Amber Diers, who seconded the motion, said she has heard more concerns about busing and transporting children to school than mask wearing.
School Board Member Amber Vogt said she thinks wearing masks should be a personal decision.
“I don’t think it should be a required thing. I think you’re going to see a lot more issues with requiring it than you would by strongly encouraging it,” Vogt said.
Leikvold said that while there were changes to the long list of 25 modifications the district will make for back to school amidst the pandemic, recommending that masks be required was not one of them.
“I strongly support them and the use of them, but I know that not everybody does and there are issues with enforcement,” Leikvold said, later adding that he is focused on educating children regarding the usefulness of masks so that they will self-regulate, rather than requiring them to wear masks, as well as the practicality of running a school. “I tend to believe we will get more 18-and-unders wearing them if you encourage them than if you tell them they have to.”
Other modifications for back to school
The Lead-Deadwood School District will not conduct temperature checks, as School Nurse Laurie Rogers does not feel they will be a reliable enough measure to count on.
Red and green zones will be designated in the district’s buildings, with mask/face cover strongly encouraged in red zones, such as hallways, bathrooms, offices, classrooms when six feet is not maintained, and mask/face covers optional in green zones, such as recess or at safe six-feet distances in the classroom.
The district will be prepared to implement three learning models: back to normal with modifications, remote learning, and a hybrid model that would implement both types of learning. Hybrid models under consideration include morning/afternoon, every other day, and all students learn remotely, but small groups of students ill come in intermittently for face-to-face instructions.
“Many folks believe that the hybrid is the best model to ensure social distancing,” Leikvold said. “It is also the most disruptive and difficult to implement.”
Models are being developed by the building principals and will be reviewed by the school board Aug. 18.
“I think a better approach is to go to full remote learning and to slowly bring students back in small groups of three to five intermittently,” Leikvold said.
In regard to activities, the school district will follow the guidelines set forth by the South Dakota High School Activities Association. Parents will be permitted to transport their own children to and from away extra-curricular activities in certain cases. Fan attendance may be limited at some events and social distancing guidelines will be followed, with mask/face covering strongly encouraged.
Visitors will not be permitted past the front office without the consent of the building principal.
Recess will still be conducted, albeit in smaller groups.
Lunch will be conducted in smaller groups and in more venues than just the lunchroom, in order for students to spread out and social distance while eating. Students will not be eating in classrooms.
Leikvold said that school administrators are still working on the parameters they will follow to close school, due to the pandemic, if need be, and are hoping to have those set for the board to consider at its Aug. 18 school board meeting.
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