BROOKINGS – The Brookings School Board approved the Bobcat Tracks 2.0 Plan at a special meeting Tuesday night.
The plan, which outlines protocols as students head back to the classroom next month amid the COVID-19 pandemic, passed with a 5-0 vote.
As of Tuesday night, district officials said the intention was to start the school year with in-classroom face-to-face instruction and masks optional in schools, as part of Phase 1 of the plan.
Vaccinations for those who are eligible to receive them are encouraged, but not required. Accommodations for remote learning will also be made for “documented vulnerable individuals including medically fragile youth. The accommodations are made for the learner on a case-by-case basis upon written request.”
But the phase the district is in and what protocols it follows can change depending on what’s happening with COVID-19, and nothing is off the table, Brookings Superintendent Klint Willert has said.
“My feeling is that I would like to approve the Bobcat Tracks Plan as we have it now,” school board Vice President Keli Books said at the meeting Tuesday. “I think the plan is really well done and really thought through. It’s our plan of now. I want our families to know what is happening. I don’t want them to pick another district. I want kids to come to our district because we are a fantastic district, and I want them to know what our plan is.”
“I guess I would agree with that,” school board member Wesley Tschetter said. “Simply because parents need to know, even administrative groups, staff and teachers need to know and because last year I think we did everything we could to decide as quickly as we could, we know that some parents were interested in a decision earlier than what we were able to deliver.”
“I know we will never get 100% concurrence on either side of the fence relative to masks, but it is what it is,” Tschetter added.
School board member Debra DeBates noted that things could change quickly.
“I would consider voting on that tonight as well, as long as we consider that it’s flexible and the opportunity to make revisions and changes as we get more data,” DeBates said. “I think that’s one of the challenges that we’ve had from COVID right from the start, is that people don’t realize we are getting new information almost daily in regard to (COVID), so any plan that we approve is the best information we have right now. Two weeks from now it might change. Our September meeting it might change.”
The board and Willert discussed the current vaccine situation for children under 12. Currently a COVID-19 vaccine is not available for that group of students, which led to a discussion about optional mask-wearing for elementary students. Willert and the board made it clear that the district would continue to monitor state COVID numbers and the latest CDC guidelines when making possible changes to the plan.
“I’ve never seen a framework designed to be more flexible,” added school board President Mellissa Heermann, referring to the Bobcat Tracks Plan.
The school district uses four phases, based on CDC guidelines, to dictate how it will operate amidst a pandemic.
As of Tuesday night, the district was in Phase 1 of its Bobcat Tracks Plan, which gives the infection risk level as “no to minimal community transmission.” To move to Phase II, which continues with the same mitigation strategies as Phase I along with the resumption of mask-wearing and social distancing strategies, the infection risk level would also have to move to “minimal to moderate community transmission.”
Brookings County was in minimal community spread for COVID as of Tuesday. On Wednesday, the county moved to moderate community spread, according to the state Department of Health website.
A message asking whether the change in community spread classification for the county has affected the phase the district is in, and upcoming mask-wearing requirements, was not returned as of press time Wednesday.
The school board on Tuesday also tabled the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) proposed budget and expenditure plan following feedback from the Brookings Education Association (BEA).
After getting survey responses from some of its members, the BEA reported, “Members showed strong support (50% or more) for the following areas: social worker, district mental health counselors, district school psychologist, behavior intervention resources, and resources to supplement Title I. There is concern for adding administrative positions that won’t directly impact learners.
“Members feel that there is not enough information and details on many of these positions. Cuts were made and positions weren’t filled this past spring. We need to hire more teachers, even if it means three-year positions, to keep class sizes manageable. None of this will help with learning loss more than smaller class sizes,” the BEA report said.
The proposed budget is due to the state by Aug. 20, which allowed the board the option to spend more time planning on how to spend the more than $5 million in relief funds.
Contact Addison DeHaven at [email protected]