What is the Brookings School District thinking?


The Brookings School District has a vital role during a pandemic, as the health of the students and the community is affected by how it responds. 

We have been experiencing the highest COVID-19 case numbers in Brookings County since the beginning of the pandemic. For several weeks, the health systems have been saying that they may have difficulty with the large number of cases, and hospitalizations nationally are on the rise. As of last Wednesday, only 21% of Brookings County children have been vaccinated (SDDOH data), and the number of cases in the schools has risen sharply.

This new Omicron variant will put significant strain on our health care systems over the next couple of months. Not only are there concerns about the pressure on the health care systems, but the long-term health effect of this virus is unknown and should not be assumed to be negligible.

An article from the CDC that was published last Friday (1/2/22) reemphasizes our lack of understanding of how this virus can affect the long-term health of our children (https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/71/wr/mm7102e2.htm). The report indicates a potential increased risk of developing diabetes among children who had COVID-19 and emphasized the importance of COVID-19 prevention among all age groups, including children.

Given the above, I find it puzzling that the discussion at Monday night’s board meeting was to consider whether to move from Phase I to Phase II. The three factors considered in determining which phase the school is in are the spread in the community (highest it’s been since the start), impact and spread in the schools (staffing is an issue as discussed Monday night), and impact on the health care systems in Brookings (front-page article in the Register on 1/10/22). All three indicators suggest that the school district should be in a higher phase, at least Phase III, perhaps even Phase IV.

The discussion at the school board meeting Monday night was to follow the new CDC guidelines for isolation and quarantine and to move to Phase II. To remind people, the main difference between Phases I and II is that masks are “optional” in Phase I vs. “strongly recommended” in Phase II. Now is not the time to simply recommend masks.

The CDC guidelines for K-12 settings (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/schools-childcare/k-12-guidance.html) include universal indoor masking by all students and staff, regardless of vaccination status. Universal masking would make masking for cases and close contacts, part of the new guidelines for isolation and quarantine, easier to enforce.

Moving to Phase III (requires masking) of the Bobcat Tracks plan makes sense. This would be obvious if actual metrics were used to determine the phase (see Speakout from 9/8/2021). 

I’m disappointed by the lack of leadership by school officials and some of the school board members.