District proposing masks optional for start of school

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BROOKINGS – Brookings School District officials are proposing that face masks be optional, not required, for students and staff starting the upcoming school year.

The Brookings School Board met Monday night at Dakota Prairie Elementary, where the revised Bobcat Tracks 2.0 Plan was unveiled. 

Superintendent Klint Willert presented the proposed plan, which outlined how the district will return to school in light of the ongoing pandemic.

“Our plan reflects the intent to make masks optional as we are in Phase 1 starting out the school year,” Willert said. “They are optional recognizing some individuals may not be vaccinated, understanding that we have some individuals who may choose to wear a mask, understanding that those choices are things that we want to recognize and acknowledge but it also recognizes that it exists in Phase 1 only.”

The school district uses four phases, based on CDC guidelines, to dictate how it will operate amidst a pandemic. Currently the district is in Phase 1, which means low-risk and “no to minimal community spread.” 

“That if we would see a resurgence of a variant, that we have heard in different parts of the country right now, we would move to Phase 2 and initiate the masks again in the district,” Willert said. 

Tony Lanning, a Title 1 teacher at Camelot Intermediate School, spoke to the board, urging members to consider encouraging masks for younger students who may not be eligible to receive the vaccine.

“I’m going to go back to the face masks because I’m pretty certain that’s why we did so well last year,” Lanning said. “As one of the teachers who have been in the district the longest, I only had a half-day of sick leave last year. Beyond COVID, it was my healthiest year ever.”

“It looks as though those students under age 12 may not get the option to get vaccinated before the end of the year, so please consider that,” Lanning added.

“We want and are encouraging feedback and input on this plan,” Willert said.

Willert explained that the state requires a plan for both returning to school and the use of the stimulus funds given to school districts. Both plans need to be published, receive feedback and presented for the state before being approved. 

“We took the plan from last year that we had in place and put in some revisions,” Willert said. 

Other changes in the plan included the resumption of visitors to the schools. However, appointments are encouraged, and all visitors must follow district requirements. 

Field trips will resume after being suspended for the entirety of the last school year. Cleaning and disinfecting of the school space, including the use of hand sanitizer, will remain this year. Physical distancing will also remain; however, it will occur on an as-necessary basis rather than a required effort. Vaccinations for those who are eligible to receive them are also encouraged, but not required.

One of the main focuses of the updated plan is the continuation of face-to-face instruction as the district’s primary mode of learning. The previous year’s plan allowed an option for remote learning for every student in the district. 

This year’s proposed plan calls for face-to-face to be the primary for all students, with accommodations being 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.”

The district as a whole may move to hybrid or remote learning if it’s warranted, but “those would have to be pretty severe circumstances in which we would find ourselves implementing either a hybrid or a remote learning model,” Willert said, noting that nothing is off the table.

A special meeting may be set to approve the proposed plan before the next regularly scheduled school board meeting.

The plan can be viewed online at https://www.brookings.k12.sd.us/cms/lib/SD01816867/Centricity/Domain/510/BobcatTracksV2.pdf.

The first day of school for Brookings students is Aug. 25.

Contact Addison DeHaven at [email protected]

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