SPEARFISH — Students within the Spearfish School District will return to school, in person, on Aug. 27.
That’s the plan as of now following the recommendations of the district’s Safe Start Taskforce.
Kirk Easton, superintendent of the Spearfish School District, said about 25 people - one administrator, the district’s head nurse, teachers representative of the different grade levels and content areas, parents representative of the different grade levels, coaches, Monument Health staff, food service staff, a secretary, a Kids Club representative, as well as Dakota Bus and Prairie Hills Transit staff members comprised the taskforce.
What they recommended to school leaders is found an a 10-page document that is expected to be presented to the Spearfish School Board at tonight’s 5:30 p.m. meeting.
Easton outlined the preliminary plan.
“Operations at Mountain View for kindergarten are certainly going to be different than at the high school,” he said.
The plan will be approved, changed, or rejected by the board. As of now, Easton said he plans to send the plan to parents on Wednesday for their review and input.
“I will tell you, our district restart plan does not tell you how they are going to do recess or music, or lunch. Lunch we somewhat touch on, but each building will have their own specific plan that will come out in early August,” he said. “Again, lunch at the high school looks a whole lot different than at Mountain View.”
He said that the Aug. 27 start date could change if COVID becomes more of a presence locally.
As of Sunday, there have been 20 cases in Lawrence County. All but one patient has fully recovered.
The plan indicates three operational categories:
• Category 1, zero cases in a school building.
• Category 2, isolated cases in a school building.
• Category 3, substantial cases in a school building.
“Category 1 outlines the things we will be doing to mitigate the transmission of COVID in our buildings,” he said.
“Category 2 includes everything in Category 1, but then we get a little more restrictive. We cancel certain things. We don’t allow visitors. There are stipulations on facemasks,” he added.
“Category 3, where there is substantial cases in school, that goes to where we are completely remote learning again,” Easton said. “What people really need to understand though, is we will not make the decision to close, whether by class, or building, or entire district, in isolation. The Department of Health will help us in making this decision.”
Easton said that if it becomes necessary to isolate students it will be to the fewest number possible and for the shortest duration possible.
“So if it is one student, of course they are going to be isolated,” he said. “If it is contained in a classroom, we are going to try to isolate it to that classroom. If it is isolated in a building, we are going to keep it in the building so we are not affecting the other the other buildings in the district.”
Easton said that the state Department of Health would conduct contact tracing and make recommendations as to what the district should do.
Throughout parts of the country, COVID-19 cases are skyrocketing prompting some areas to halt reopening plans, or even implementing restrictions.
Easton referred to the American Academy of Pediatrics which gives guidance about children regarding COVID-19. “‘Although many questions remain, the preponderance of evidence indicates that children and adolescents are less likely to be symptomatic, and are less likely to have severe disease resulting from this infection. In addition, children may be less likely to become infected and spread the infection,’” he read from an article. “Now I’m not saying that it is 100% certain that all of this is true, but they are saying, ‘the preponderance of evidence suggests…’ . So that’s what we are asking parents to consider.”
That being said, “if (parents) are completely uncomfortable sending their child back, we will have a remote, or what we are calling a home-based learning option where we will provide the instruction to children at home,” he said. “There’s going to be a certain percentage, we’re hoping it’s going to be a lower percentage, of parents are not comfortable sending their children back until there is a vaccine.”
He said he has received notification from one parent that they would not be sending their child(ren) back to school. No teachers, to his knowledge, have said they will not return, although some teachers have expressed concern, he said.
For those parents who do choose their children to participate in home-based learning, Easton said it would be online administrated by a third-party provider for older students, and Spearfish teachers for younger students. He assured it would be better than what was provided following the March 13 closure of schools.
“However, if we move into Category 3, where we are closing down 10-14 days, or possibly even longer, then our staff will do very much like this spring but they will be better at it,” he said.
Teachers this summer will receive training to improve skills and resources for online instruction.
If distance learning must be used, he said, it would be to as small of a group and short amount of time as possible.
“We’re not looking at another 2.5 months,” he said. “We’re looking at, if it is an isolated case where we have to close a building for three days, so we can do contact tracing, and for disinfecting the school, we’re going to close for three days. If it is substantial, we going to close for 10 days or 14-21, depending on guidance from the Department of Health, and do remote learning before coming back. Nobody wants to see long-term.”
Easton estimated that 5-10% of kids did little to no school work following the March 13 building closures. Industry magazines run the gamut as to the impact that distance learning played on the educational outcome of students.
Easton said he was most concerned about elementary students. As such, the district hired a second-grade teacher to reduce class sizes, as well as a interventionist for Creekside Elementary School. Summer school was also held at the middle school and high school.
“This fall we will work towards working with everybody,” he said. “It’s going to take time to recover. But kids are resilient. They really are. We have a wonderful staff who will take kids and get them up to their highest achievement level. They will push them. I have the utmost faith in our teaching staff.”
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