The Elk Point-Jefferson School Board met in special session Thursday, Aug. 13 to discuss the Return to Learn Plan and mask requirements.

At a meeting Aug. 10, the board approved a four-tier plan in which the Green (first) tier of the plan requires masks of all staff when they cannot physically distance from students and recommends masks for students. The Yellow (second) tier has the same mask requirements.

They based their decision on information Superintendent Derek Barrios had received from the South Dakota Department of Health (SD DOH), that the district would promptly be notified when anyone in the district tested positive for COVID-19. However, that now appears to have changed.

Board member Travis Geary asked Barrios whether SD DOH is getting case updates to the district in a timely fashion. Barrios said he became aware of a positive case of a school-age child just that day but had not heard anything from the state. He reached out to them and the state gave him a little bit of information.

“But I wasn’t really encouraged by what I was told as far as the timeliness of what their communications are going to be,” Barrios said. “I really do think that most of this is going to lie on my shoulders as far as parents letting me or admin know about positive cases. That’s going to be faster than a department of health contact at this point.”

Barrios feels it could take up to three days before the department contacts the district, because of the cumbersome reporting system. The situation is complicated by the fact that many area residents seek medical care in Iowa. The board was meeting to decide whether the situation warrants a mask requirement for all students and staff.

“I understand that this mask issue is a sensitive issue and I understand that there are people that are on both sides of it,” board member Sabrina Sayler said. “I think there are legitimate arguments on both sides of it.

“From my perspective, I think there are some negatives associated with the masks, too,” Sayler continued. “For someone like me, who’s hard of hearing, deaf in my right ear, it becomes extremely difficult to communicate with people when they have a mask on. Their speech is mumbled, whether we like that or not.”

See full story in this week’s Leader-Courier.