Brookings teachers, staff pushed to the limit


BROOKINGS – Brookings School District teachers are stressed with an increasing workload due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a Brookings Education Association representative told school board members at their Monday meeting. 

The board also received updated COVID-19 data, reporting the district’s active and cumulative cases and close contacts among students and staff. 

Adam Juba of the Brookings Education Association presented results of a survey that had been administered to teachers in the Brookings district, inquiring about their mental and physical health and what they were doing to reach their teaching goals for their classrooms.

Juba said Brookings School District staff have stepped up and gone the extra mile for students in a year of uncertainty. 

“Our teachers have done a phenomenal job of facing all the unknowns this year has brought – and continues to bring – while fully committing themselves to provide the education our students here in Brookings deserve,” Juba said.

Juba detailed some of the ways teachers have been impacted by the pandemic and efforts to keep schools open and instruct students, whether or not they can be in the classroom.

“Teachers have spent many late nights at school, adjusting their lessons to be most effective in both an in-person classroom as well as a virtual one. They have given up their planning periods to cover other classrooms when a substitute was not available. They spend their passing periods sanitizing desks instead of greeting students in the hallways. They give up their weekends to create individual lesson plans for students who have missed because they were sick, taking care of a family member who was sick or out with COVID symptoms,” Juba said. 

“Many teachers in the district have students who are just now returning two months after school started, and they selflessly stay late to create a plan to help those students get caught up in a meaningful way which encourages and facilitates learning,” he added.

Juba said the extra workload is taking a toll.

“In talking to members, they have told me their mental and physical health is deteriorating. Staff are pushing the limits and working to adapt to the changing learning environment,” Juba said. “They’re spending their own money on equipment such as audio enhancers, masks, sanitizers, etc., to make the learning environment enjoyable while safe. Teaching assistants have to be extraordinarily flexible with their daily schedules changing from day-to-day. Clerical staff are fielding a record number of calls and helping in any imaginable way possible. Special education staff are under incredible pressure to provide adequate services to students while accommodating remoter learners, all amid a staff shortage due to a lack of substitutes or teachers in quarantine.”

The extra efforts are extending nearly everyone’s work week, Juba added.

“It is no surprise that across the state of South Dakota, over 70% of educators report working more now than they have ever before. BEA sent a survey over the weekend, and our number is higher than the state average with 86% of Brookings’ staff members indicating they’re working more than before. Despite the contracts paying staff for a 40-hour work week, 97% reported ... that they are going above and beyond and working more than 40 hours per week,” Juba said. 

School Board Vice President Mellissa Heermann asked if the measures teachers were taking were sustainable. 

“We’re excited to still be in the building at this point, but the health and well-being of our staff is in question,” Heermann said. “… If there was one area we could do some kind of work to alleviate something or provide support somewhere, what would that look like? What would a possible step toward helping even look like?”

The school board and Superintendent Klint Willert all agreed that there are avenues for helping pay for whatever it is that the teachers are buying on their own.

“Our staff are exhausted, and I say that as I look in the eyes of our teachers, our administrators … it’s a taxing year. And I think we have to continually look for solutions to alleviate that,” Willert said.

Willert later presented data for how the schools were faring for COVID-19 cases and close contacts as of Monday.

Cumulative COVID-19 cases in the district totaled 68 as of Monday.

Within Brookings High School, there had been a total of 26 cumulative cases of COVID-19 since the year began, with five active cases as of Nov. 9. Mickelson Middle School had a total of 14 cumulative cases with four active cases as of Nov. 9. 

All other schools were below 10 cumulative and active cases as of Monday.

Also as of Monday, the district had recorded 316 cumulative close contacts since the start of the school year.

BHS had a total of 149 cumulative close contacts (an individual within 6 feet of someone who had COVID-19, for more than 15 minutes) with 18 current close contacts based on active cases. Mickelson had 90 cumulative close contacts with 20 current close contacts and of Monday.

Willert also listed the total cases of COVID-19 that have affected staff and students throughout the state, according to the South Dakota Department of Health. 

According to the graph, from Aug. 22 to Nov. 7, 3,595 South Dakota students have been infected with COVID-19 in the K-12 range, and 1,394 K-12 staff members have been infected. A total of 4,144 had recovered as of Nov. 7.

For higher education schools and colleges on the same timeline, 1,993 students have been infected with 205 staff members being infected. A total of 2,011 of them had recovered.

For more information, visit https://agendas.brookings.k12.sd.us/, and to watch the meeting visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=clLhbjAvhUE. 

Contact Matthew Rhodes at [email protected]

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