At a special meeting Tuesday, the Yankton school board voted to mandate masks inside school buildings except when social distancing is possible, and to periodically review that policy.
There were only two items on the agenda Tuesday at Yankton High School’s main theater: to set an opening date for school and to decide on a masks policy.
The first item raised no comment from the public and was quickly approved.
Board member Terry Crandall made a motion to set the school start date at Aug. 24.
“I do want to add to though, so everybody understands that is a moveable date,” he said. “Who knows what it’s going to be like one month from now, but, ‘As the sun now stands in the sky,’ as chief Joseph said, the 24th of August in our tentative start date.”
The second question, whether masks should be mandatory when social distancing is not possible, garnered a great deal of public comment both at Tuesday’s meeting and at last week’s Thursday special school board meeting.
Most public comment was overwhelmingly in support of a universal mask mandate at school.
A member of the Yankton Educators Association (YEA) addressed the board saying that a survey of its members showed that 75% of teachers favored universal mask use in the schools either to protect themselves or a loved one who has underlying health conditions.
Board member Frani Kieffer expressed her support of the motion, despite the many emails she received containing links to studies against mask use.
“I went and pulled up actual trials and read those in detail,” she said. “Everything is comparing N95 to surgical masks or surgical masks to cloth masks,” she said. ““There’s no concrete data out there that I can find that says no masks is better than masks.”
The safety of staff and student was, Kieffer said, the boards first priority, as well as keeing the schools open. Other board members echoed Kieffer’s sentiments.
But not everyone at Tuesday’s meeting agreed.
“I do not believe it’s the school district’s responsibility for the health of my child and I do not believe its government’s responsibility for the health of my family,” Stacey Nickels, who has three children in the YSD, told the school board. “I don’t think it’s fair to do a mandatory masks policy.”
She pointed out that a box surgical masks costs $36.50 and has a disclaimer on the label saying the masks do not prevent coronavirus.
“Our governor came out today and isn’t recommending mandatory masks for everyone,” she said. “I pray that you will choose to do a strong recommendation of the masks (instead).”
The next speaker, a local hairdresser said she wears her mask all day and she’s fine.
“My kids, who are 5, 9, 12 and 2 will all wear them,” she said. “My younger ones actually wear them better than my older ones because they listen and they’ll for sure listen to the teachers.”
She said she wanted her children to stay in school, and if the masks could make that possible, then she wanted her children to wear them.
Both commenters received audience applause.
Though the school board approved the mask mandate, it also plans to review that mandate regularly as science changes what is known about the novel coronavirus.
With the mandate in place, administrators must now look to planning its implementation.
“At the last special school board meeting it was suggested that we educate the students on mask use,” YSD Superintendent Wayne Kindle told the Press & Dakotan. “We followed up to see if we could have a couple of medical people make a couple of videos that we can show kids, and even post on our website for parents, so that they can look at it and see the do’s and don’ts of masking up.”
Also, administrators will decide how to proceed in areas in which masks are not feasible, such as music, band, chorus and orchestra — and eating lunch.
“I think it was said best by one of our teachers tonight that, just like any first week of opening school, there’s kids that are getting used to things they have to do differently,” Kindle said. “And, this is going to be different for our kids —mandatory masking — but, you know, we’re going to get through that week.”
The YSD, which has been working on a back-to-school plan since the beginning of the summer, plans to release its draft Back To School Plan to the community today (Wednesday), he said.