For those in preschool through 12th grade, it remains to be seen what conditions South Dakota children and teachers will face in the 2020-21 academic year regarding the battle against COVID-19.

However, there will be no such questions for those studying or working at a public university in South Dakota when classes start Aug. 19.

This week, members of the South Dakota Board of Regents said all students, staff, faculty, and campus visitors will be required to wear masks in all public indoor spaces on campus. The board oversees these institutions of higher learning:

  • University of South Dakota

  • South Dakota State University

  • Black Hills State University

  • Dakota State University

  • Northern State University

  • South Dakota School of Mines & Technology

  • South Dakota School for the Blind & Visually Impaired

  • South Dakota School for the Deaf.

“University of South Dakota strongly supports wearing face coverings as a practical way to reduce the transmission of COVID-19,” university President Sheila K. Gestring said in reaction. “In addition to maintaining physical distancing and washing your hands, wearing a face covering is one of the most significant steps we can take to help protect others and ourselves. We are grateful for the Board of Regents’ action, which offers universities the flexibility to act quickly to adjust campus operations, should it become necessary due to the fluid nature of the coronavirus pandemic.”

The board actually adopted a four-tier strategy of requirements, with the regulations becoming more stringent as the public concern grows. The mandate for masks in all indoor public areas is considered Level 3. This will be reviewed after 30 days, board officials said.

The levels of regulation are as follows, according to the board:

  • Level 1 - Requires face coverings in all classroom or lab settings where course delivery requires close proximity or physical contact and makes Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommendations on physical distancing impractical. Examples are instructional laboratories, clinical training environments, and design or art studio instruction;

  • Level 2 - Requires face coverings in all public areas of academic buildings on campus (including classrooms, hallways, and common areas), along with other indoor areas where 30 or more individuals frequently congregate or interact in a setting not conducive to maintaining CDC-recommended physical distancing;

  • Level 3 - Requires face coverings in all public indoor spaces on campus;

  • Level 4 - Requires face coverings in all public indoor and outdoor areas of campus.

Brian Maher, the regents’ executive director and CEO, characterized the four-tiered approach as “responding in a practical way to the changing COVID-19 landscape at campuses and within their respective communities.”

Gestring said at her institution, qualifying face coverings may include a mask, bandana, shield or any other covering that covers the mouth and nose.

“We know this fall will look a little different for our community members,” Gestring added. “But we’re confident that we can deliver a true USD experience that meets students’ academic, social and emotional needs.”

South Dakota State University President Barry Dunn said he supports the actions of the board.

“The policy was the result of several weeks of research and discussion among the university presidents, the regents and BOR staff. Information was provided by leading medical experts and by the South Dakota Department of Health. Guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was also utilized,” he said.

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