School board talks attendance, BATA, COVID


BROOKINGS – Following a postponement due to a ceremony last week in Pierre honoring Stephanie Ballard as South Dakota Teacher of the Year, the Brookings School Board held its first October meeting on Monday night.

During the meeting, Ballard and the rest of the Mickelson Middle School Special Education team received a Brookings B.E.S.T. Award.

“Ashley and Sara (as well as the rest of the middle school special education team) went above and beyond when a co-worker was unable to start the school year due to medical reasons,” Superintendent Klint Willert said. “Without pausing to ask how they would manage their own caseloads all the while transitioning incoming students to the building, they offered to help with another caseload. These teachers stepped up, as they always do, to support kids and their co-workers.”

Attendance issues

During the high school administrative report, Willert spoke about the attendance issues occurring at the high school. In the report, Principal Paul von Fischer noted that “we have an increasing number of students at Brookings High School showing poor attendance habits.”

“At the start of this school year, we were surprised with the number of students who do not come to school. There seems to be an increase in the number absent,” von Fischer wrote. “We also have a group of students who are in and out of the building and not going to class.”

Willert explained that support staff in the building “sweep” the hallways once class starts but aren’t always able to get everyone to class. Von Fischer reported that this trend started prior to COVID, so “I would not go as far as to say these trends are happening because of COVID.”

Von Fischer reported that he will continue to monitor the situation and report back in future school board reports regarding any attendance trends he may find.

In his report, von Fischer also reported that additional parking was now available in the west BHS parking lot, where the basketball and tennis courts used to be located.

MOU with BATA

The board unanimously approved a Memorandum of Understanding between the Brookings School District and Brookings Area Transit Authority. The MOU is to serve as “the guiding document for the final design, funding, construction, operation and maintenance of the proposed Southeast Transportation Facility.”

The proposed facility would house transportation services for the district as well as BATA.

“This is important for BATA to move forward with our support for a federal grant application,” School Board Member Wesley Tschetter said.

Willert explained that this MOU is important so BATA can demonstrate “truly the joint venture nature” when applying for a federal grant. Willert said if the grant is approved, then the district is “committed.”

The project is estimated to cost more than $9 million. If awarded, the federal grant would contribute nearly $6 million to the project.

The rest would come from BATA’s Local Capital funding budget and the district’s Capital Outlay Fund. The district would contribute more than $2 million

The anticipated finish date for the project, if grants and deadlines are met, is December 2023.  

COVID update

In mid-September, COVID cases in the district were in the mid-20 to 30s throughout all schools. In late September, the school board approved a move to Phase II in the Bobcat Tracks Back to the Classroom Plan. Since that change, cases have plummeted.

As of Wednesday, there was one confirmed active case among district students and staff. During the “COVID Update” portion of Monday night’s meeting, Willert noted that he has received communications asking when the district would move back to Phase I.

“Our administrative team will be meeting. We will review our current protocol,” Willert said. “I am reaching out, as I typically do, to our health care professionals as well, and if there is a recommendation as well forthcoming, we will certainly include that on the agenda.

“Our trends right now have been positive, our numbers have gone down, and we see that has been consistent not only here, but across the country,” Willert added.

The next school board meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 25, in the Dakota Prairie Community Room.

Contact Addison DeHaven at [email protected]

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