Editor's note: This story has been corrected to reflect that the Brookings School District started the school year in Phase I but moved to Phase II for two months this past fall, before returning to Phase I in November.
BROOKINGS – At a special meeting Wednesday night, the Brookings School Board voted unanimously to move to Phase II in the Bobcat Tracks Back to the Classroom Plan.
Phase II is highlighted by face masks “strongly recommended” as well as other everyday “preventative actions.”
The Brookings School District started the school year in Phase I, with masks optional, made a two-month move to Phase II this fall, and returned to Phase I in November.
“We know, and we acknowledge, that we are seeing cases and the impact of COVID-19 in our schools, much like every other school in the state,” Superintendent Klint Willert said via speakerphone. “We know that those impacts are real, and certainty we believe that moving to Phase II right now is a prudent decision.”
Currently, the district is experiencing its highest caseload ever. On Dec. 4, 2020, the district had 34 active cases, which was the highest number of active daily cases for the 2020-21 school year.
The latest information that Willert had, as of Wednesday afternoon, gave a total of 52 active cases. Willert noted that the total amount of cases is likely higher than 52, due to a variety of reasons but primarily because at-home antigen tests do not count toward the confirmed total.
Willert, who has continually said that he speaks to other entities within the community regarding any COVID-19 related decisions, said that the numbers in the hospital have increased as well. He also said that various health care facilities in the community are seeing the impact of COVID, along with other illnesses like the flu.
“We don’t know exactly where we are in the peak or the impact of the omicron variant, but we know that omicron has a greater transmittibility rate,” Willert said. “There’s kind of a sense that we might be in the front end of the middle (of the bell curve).”
Phase II would impact activities with seating arrangements on buses and social distancing before and after practices. Temperature checks for suspected illnesses would also resume as would the removal of drinking fountains (water bottle fill-up stations would stay). Other preventative measure include the increased sanitization of high-touch areas.
Willert mentioned that moving to Phase III at a later date – even considering it as soon as the Jan. 20 school board meeting – is a possibility.
School Board member Debra DeBates suggested that maybe a two-week mask requirement would be a good idea, as someone in the health care system suggested to her that mask-wearing during a surge period could slow the spread and “flatten the curve.” Willert and DeBates mentioned that currently, Vermillion and Tea school districts both have mask requirements in the state.
“I know that (mask-wearing) is not something that anyone wants to do,” DeBates said. “I know that it’s not easy to enforce that.”
“I would like to see us impose a short-term mask mandate to try and reduce the spread of this virus during this surge time,” DeBates added, explaining that the mask mandate could be for high schoolers and middle schoolers because “that’s where our numbers are the highest.”
School Board members Keli Books and Mellissa Heermann both supported what Willert was recommending, which was a move to Phase II.
Ultimately, the school board voted 5-0 to move to Phase II.
Phase II becomes effective Friday, Jan. 14, according to the school board agenda. The next school board meeting is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Jan. 20 in the Dakota Prairie Elementary Community Room.
Contact Addison DeHaven at [email protected]