Frustrating. That’s the word Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jerry Rasmussen used to describe the communication process between the South Dakota Department of Health (DOH) and school districts Thursday night, Sept. 24 at a special school board meeting. An update from legal counsel was provided about the school’s involvement in COVID-19 contact tracing and being able to quarantine students. At the previous school board meeting, Sept. 14, the Dakota Valley School Board had made a motion stating that if a student is determined, through a DOH investigation, as a close contact, then the district will follow the CDC and DOH’s recommendations and South Dakota codified law on student health emergencies and require the student to quarantine.

Now, however, legal counsel is saying otherwise.

Rodney Freeman, the school attorney, now says that the school will continue to do their best with contact tracing and upon finding out about a positive case, will supply the DOH with names of those who could have been in close contact. They will send parents a letter stating there was a positive case in the classroom and another if the child was determined to be in close contact and could be receiving a phone call from the DOH. Currently, the school is doing this. The difference between the former motion and this request is the parent responsibility.

Now, the DOH is recommending if your child is a close contact to quarantine them. By doing this, parents are responsible for watching for symptoms in their child, determining whether to get them tested or send them to school. If a parent sends their child to school after receiving such a call, they should inform the school so the school can monitor the child for symptoms throughout the day as well as take the child’s temperature twice a day. The child will also be required to wear a mask.

The main concern was the inconsistency and lack of communication from the DOH.

“The message from the Department of Health has been inconsistent,” Rasmussen explained. “At one time we were told there were requirements, then recommendations, now guidelines. The DOH contract tracers are calling parents, but those messages are different. There is not consistency between what Parent A is being told and Parent B is told.”

He stated it’s the same in all the schools that he’s had meetings with lately. He also said it’s frustrating for the parents because of the constant changes.

“Parents are frustrated because they’re getting mixed messages,” he said. “Schools are frustrated because we’re trying to help parents and we’re getting mixed messages as well.”

In regards to the board resolution made on Sept. 14, Rasmussen said that they have had parents who have chosen to ignore that resolution.

“You said you’ve had some parents that have ignored the recommendation or resolution put out,” board member Matt Thompson said. “I know from speaking to and hearing from staff administration, I know that the parents have been very tough on the teachers. They’ve been disrespectful to the teachers; they’ve been disrespectful to the administration and I, as a parent, was ashamed of and disappointed in. Everyone in this school district is doing their best and trying to do their best for the kids. The goal is to keep the kids in school. And for anybody to take that out on the teachers and administration is completely uncalled for and should not be tolerated... Everybody is trying to do their best. They’re coming to work every day, trying to keep your kids in school and educating your kids and then you turn around and yell at them for doing their best and following things we [the board] set in place based on recommendations from a lawyer, based on what the South Dakota Department of Health is doing and you’re taking it out on the teacher that has zero control over it?

“It just doesn’t make any sense,” he continued. “There’s just no reason for that. This is something that everyone is dealing with; it’s a tough time for everybody. I think everyone needs to remember that and you can have differences of opinions, you can not agree with what’s going on, but you can do it respectfully.”

See full story in this week’s Dakota Dunes / North Sioux City Times.