RCAS Superintendent, “bottom line, we want to be able to open our doors,” as district looks at Back to School

RAPID CITY, S.D. — Rapid City Area Schools in a livestream on Thursday unveiled the draft of their ‘complex’ plan to open schools this coming fall.

“[Complex] may be understating it,” said RCAS Superintendent Dr. Lori Simon, “It’s extremely challenging. One thing I will say though is that we are all in this together.”

Dr. Lori Simon, RCAS Superintendent

The plan laid out in the RCAS livestream on Thursday is a draft which will be voted on this coming Tuesday, August 4. The plan details rules and restrictions that will affect all Rapid City Area Schools and the severity of the restrictions are determined by a three level system. The level will be determined by the school board as they consult with the SD Department of Health and local healthcare professionals.

“We are experiencing unprecedented times,” said Dr. Simon. “And as leaders and Boards of Education, working with other districts, this is nothing like we’ve ever experienced before. We are constantly being given the latest information, the latest guidance, the latest direction, the latest ideas and at the end of the day there is no such thing as a perfect plan, a perfect idea, a perfect concept. What we have to do is look at our local context, our buildings, our staff and our resources and what we are trying to do is do everything possible that is feasible for us to do and with all that, put the best plan forward.”

Below is a look at the three-tier system:

Level 1 – Low/mild spread:

  • No masks required unless 6 foot distance cannot be maintained. Students and faculty will be required to have a mask on their person at all times.
  • While riding on the bus all students must be wearing a mask. The bus driver will have a vinyl curtain around him with the option to wear a mask.
  • Students and faculty will be required to take their temperature before arriving at school each day.
  • Parents and guardians will not be allowed to enter school facilities. Parents and guardians picking up elementary school students will be permited to enter the vestibule.
  • Touchless point of sale will be implemented for cafeterias.
  • Physical distancing will be enforced during lunch periods.
  • Use of school facilities will be limited. Only students, faculty and essential visitors will be permitted to use school facilities.

Level 2 – Moderate spread:

  • All restrictions from level 1 will continue into level 2.
  • All staff will be required to wear a face mask at all times.
  • Bus routes may become limited and some routes may be canceled.

Level 3 – Substantial spread:

  • All school facilities will be closed.
  • Food will still be made available to students through either drive-thru or delivery.

The RCAS board and Dr. Simon, along with Human Resources and other administrative staff met for several hours in which comments from the public were brought forth for discussion.

The biggest takeaways from the comment section are parent/guardian concern about the mask mandate and the new hybrid online and remote learning model using a service called Edgenuity.

“I think there was a lack of clarity in last night’s meeting,” said, parent, Natalie Slack whose three children will be attending class in person for the time being. “Maybe moving forward, about what the mask situation is really going to look like.”

Dr. Simon says that masks will need to be carried by each of the 14,000 students in the district’s 23 schools. Masks are required anytime that maintaining a 6 foot of distance isn’t an option. So teachers don’t decide- it’s based on the space available.

Parents were concerned about the younger children actually wearing the masks but Simon added that even the preschool age students in their Education Center have learned to wear the masks.

There was also concern about young and even older students’ abilities to focus and remain engaged in instruction with the hybrid model – using a swivel camera to live stream the teacher’s lessons.

“I understand the amount of time in front of technology,” said Simon. “Yet with really a lot of the other options when you look at a remote environment that’s also going to require a lot of technology.”

The option remains. Parents and students can choose what type of instruction, whether in person or online, will work best for them. Students who work from home will still be able to participate in after school activities, but on the other hand, will not be able to take courses such as band or art as they will not be offered remote, only core curriculum.

Slack decided, as she put it, “to put [her] money where [her] mouth is.” She will be sending her kids back to school while signed up as a substitute and encourages others to do the same.

“It is a scary time to say I want to go into the petri dish of a school and work,” Slack said. “I believe it’s all of our responsibility to support our kids and I want to live in an educated community.”

Categories: Coronavirus, Local News, South Dakota News