Still to be officially carved in stone, Stanley County School District officials have set their opening date for the 2020-21 school year for Aug. 24.

School board members are scheduled for a special meeting at 6 P.M. CT on Tuesday, July 28 in the boardroom. Their most recent regularly scheduled meeting took place July 13.

Focus groups have met to determine what direction the school should go for the new academic year. Discussion leaned heavily to proceed with in-person classes, rather than to rely on distance learning through online teachings and courses.

“A lot of things are moving, as they always are during this pandemic time,” said Daniel Hoey, superintendent of the school district. “At this point, our intent is we will begin school on the 24th. Our year will begin as presented on our website. It will be in-person; as close to a ‘normal’ as possible, in that fashion.”

Hoey said the guidelines and statements from the South Dakota Medical Association and from the South Dakota High School Activities Association have not gone unnoticed nor unheeded.

In an official release, the South Dakota State Medical Association urges each public school in South Dakota to require face coverings for the 2020-21 school year.

“It is important for everyone who will be in school buildings to wear face coverings this fall. As discussions continue over how our schools can safely open during the COVID-19 pandemic, requiring educators, staff and students to wear face coverings is an effective way to keep everyone safe,” said Benjamin C. Aaker, MD, president SDSMA. “The SDSMA strongly recommends school districts to require educators, staff and students to wear face coverings and follow CDC guidelines related to youth sporting activities. The SDSMA believes that by following these guidelines schools can protect the health of educators, staff and students who will be in classrooms and on the field together with others for up to five days a week for seven hours a day. We strongly recommend that boards adopt this same position.”

The South Dakota High School Activities Association’s board of directors unanimously approved a plan for competitions and practices to proceed as scheduled. Schools should take safety precautions, including screening athletes, coaches and support staff for COVID-19 and isolating those testing positive. SDHSAA suggests a four-tiered system for allowing spectators into sporting events. The tiers would range from allowing anyone if infection trends are steady or decreasing, to barring fans if there is a spike in cases in the region.

Sports practices will begin as early as Aug. 3. The first competition is a tennis tournament set for Aug. 11.

The SDHSAA had created a task force to come up with recommendations on how schools can try to prevent the spread of coronavirus infections and a tiered system for allowing fans to attend events. Masks won’t be required at competitions, but SDHSAA recommends that schools encourage spectators to wear masks. Schools should strongly consider requiring students to wear masks during bus rides to games and practices. And, teams should use bus seating charts to help with contact tracing, if necessary.

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