Schools will have to look different in 2020-2021 school year, the age of COVID-19

RAPID CITY, S.D. — The nature of a school is collaborative and with that, close proximity.

Kids will pair up for projects, share materials and sometimes, snacks. But the 2020-2021 school year will be different.

“Learning will look different next year whether our students physically return to school or choosing our off-campus option, ” says Dr. Lori Simon, Superintendent for RCAS. “Learning is going to look different, teaching is going to need to look different.”

So how does a school district try to keep the upcoming school year “normal” while maintaining social distancing and other safety measures?

Douglas Schools, much like neighboring district RCAS, will adhere to a three-phase protocol based on prevalent community spread and spread in the schools. For Douglas, phases will be determined by the growth in the number of cases over a two-week period.

On July 22, Douglas held a virtual COVID Q&A session explaining their plans for the upcoming school year. On August 13, two weeks before school is set to start (Aug. 31), the district will record the total cases reported by the South Dakota Department of Health.

If growth in case totals stays at 150 percent, the district will be at Phase 1. Less than 200 percent, but over 150 percent, Phase 2. Any growth over 200 percent means Phase 3. Every two weeks they will update the information on their website and Facebook.

What happens if a student or staff member gets sick?:

  • SDDOH will contact the school
  • Douglas Schools will notify the public ASAP
  • SDDOH will tell the school who has to quarantine and who the individual is to begin the process of contact tracing
  • Contact will be made with all those affected
  • Douglas Schools will work with SDDOH to determine what areas, buildings or even if the district needs to close for two weeks

“We’ll continue to provide information on clusters and data around cases, so if we see a number of cases in any one particular school setting, we will be reporting that,” said Secretary Kim Malsam-Rysdon, SDDOH, during a Monday, August 3 conference call with media.

Apart from following a protocol, masks will be required when distancing is not possible. Douglas is in the midst of creating dividers to separate people when distance isn’t possible.

When kids are in the hallway, moving around the building, they will need to wear masks. Teachers will have to wear masks working in close proximity with students. Cafeterias will have social distancing. Masks will have to be worn on the bus one of the more difficult logistics challenges.

RCAS has stated they will be limiting the number of visitors inside the building to those conducting school-related business.

“When you put 3,000 people in [the district] along with 400 staff members, it becomes very difficult,” says Douglas Schools Superintendent, Alan Kerr. “But we had to try and walk through each kid’s day at each level, at the elementary through middle school and high school and mitigate wherever we could, as best we could and that’s really all we can do.”

Another concern is for people at high-risk for contracting the virus.

Douglas Schools says they will offer an option for staff as they will also be offering three options for students’ instruction, in-person, online through Black Hills Online Learning (K-8), Odysseyware (grades 9-12) or homeschooling. They will be accommodating students with devices to take home should they choose the online option.

They will also work with parents and students inquiring about special education options. Even staff will be given options if they are considered high-risk.

To make the “new normal” for schools to work, experts say kids will have to be invested.

Kerr says the district will be teaching the kids about the importance of wearing masks to protect themselves and others.

“I know the masks have become a political thing,” said Kerr. “We’re not about politics. We’re apolitical as a school district, as we should be, and we will teach kids that we wear masks for others not for ourselves.”

Categories: Coronavirus, Local News, South Dakota News