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Our view: School board acted boldly with good timing

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The Mitchell School District Board of Education showed courage on Monday night.

The school board voted unanimously to increase the mask-wearing recommendation to a requirement this fall for all students. The district’s teachers and staff will also be wearing masks when interacting with students and other individuals. Students will need to provide masks of their own to wear at school, and the school district will provide masks to those who forget or are in need. Accommodations will also be made for students with disabilities and for those learning key educational skills, such as reading.

It was one of the most commendable actions the school board has made in years, not necessarily for the decision to mandate masks but to take a stance and act boldly. The decision made more than a month before school starts shows that the health and safety of Mitchell students and our community at-large is a top priority. That’s good leadership and should be applauded.

The reasoning is not hard to follow. Children, like adults, can contract COVID-19, but generally have milder symptoms, similar to a cold and generally recover within one to two weeks, according to the Mayo Clinic.

But children can transmit the virus to adults, which becomes problematic if they interact with parents, grandparents and other individuals in their life. That includes the teachers in their classrooms, with federal data showing that about 30 percent of the country’s teachers are older than age 50. And if we’re going to keep the frontline nurses and doctors healthy to treat people who contract this virus, we can’t have kids bringing it home from school.

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The importance of students being back in class this fall can’t be understated. The educational and social development of our young people requires that. But doing so, without going to the fullest extent possible to protect everyone involved, would be irresponsible.

Scientific research related to this virus shows it is only going to be controlled through human actions and interventions. Social distancing, washing your hands and wearing face coverings are the recommended actions from Mitchell health care leaders and public health officials around the state and the country. That’s what needs to be done to safely have school and activities this fall.

Experts have said that returning to school is not a one-size-fits-all proposition, and that each school district needs to make the best decisions they can for themselves. South Dakota prides itself on local control of public education, and Mitchell’s leaders made the decision that they feel is best for students and the community. Remember, the public voted these school board members into their seats to make decisions and represent us all.

The board acted with the understanding that overreacting may be the correct path. We don’t want to be looking back three months from now saying: “We wish we had done more.” There have been countless news reports from other parts of the country with COVID-19 patients on their deathbed, wishing they had taken this virus more seriously.

Mitchell still has the chance to take this seriously. And by wearing masks at school, we’re taking a step toward that.

If the school board’s actions save one child’s life or the lives of teachers, parents or grandparents, this was worth it.

We’re not disillusioned to believe this mask mandate will be easy. Students in the lowest grade levels are not going to be completely comfortable wearing a covering over their face for up to seven hours a day.

But like any learned behavior, positive reinforcement from parents and teachers can help make this possible. Positive messaging starts now. Once more, we point to the Mayo Clinic’s guidance:

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“Following guidelines to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus can be particularly difficult for kids. Stay patient. Be a good role model and your child will be more likely to follow your lead.”

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