The Vermillion School District (VSD) has a “Return to School Plan” in place where masks are not enforced unless a building surpasses a certain COVID threshold. Masks are required for two weeks until COVID numbers are bellow the threshold
The superintendent for the VSD is Damon Alvey keeps everyone in the school district informed weekly on everyone’s COVID numbers.
When forming a plan for COVID procedures the Vermillion school district brought together the perspectives of the school nurses, administrators, teachers and some public views. As a group the VCD looked over the county’s COVID numbers along with their individual building’s numbers.
“If 1.5% of our students or staff in a particular building become COVID positive, then that particular building would go into a mask requirement for two weeks.” said Alvey.
1.5% of the Austin Elementary School population is five students, so if five students and/or staff members in Austin Elementary are COVID positive, then that building will have a two week mask requirement, not the whole Vermillion school district.
This plan was approved by the board on August 8th. For the first four weeks of the school year, the committee convened to update and give feedback on the current state of this plan with the Vermillion school district. Now Averly says they meet at minimum once a month.
“I give weekly updates to our staff, school board, and parents on the total numbers of cases within the district.”
Prior to school starting, one of the school board meetings concerning the COVID procedures for the upcoming school year, 60 people attended to express their wants and concerns for a possible mask mandate. Of the 60, 26 people spoke, 21 in favor of the no mask mandate, and five in favor.
“They wanted the board to come up with a plan so that if we had to go to a mask requirement, we want it to be as a result of new data or data threshold had been met and not just mask mandating because county numbers were rising.” Averly recalled.
Kevin O’Kelley, USD Assistant Vice President for Research Compliance and Director of Environmental Health and Safety is also the head of USD’s COVID task force. He facilitates the community’s concerns and updates the COVID Dashboard.
“Last year we worked together as a community where the University of South Dakota, the school district, the mayor, the chief of police and Sanford all worked together to make our plans. Now we know that a K12 school is different from a college and the things you need to do are different depending on your organization” O’Kelly said.
Concerning USD’s COVID policy, only the board of regents makes decisions on whether things need to be changed.
“For USD to enforce a mask mandate there would have to be an outbreak, although there is no certain threshold.” O’Kelly said “, but the number of cases we see indicate to me that we have a lot more students vaccinated than we expected to have achieved at this time.”
Both the VSD and USD are able to test for COVID daily.
“It’s been a challenge that nobody really wanted, but we’re really proud of the way our kids and our staff have responded.” Averly said.