To the Editor:

As we enter the second half of the academic year during this unprecedented pandemic, I wanted to express my deepest admiration to the members of the school board who were put in an extremely uncomfortable position of deciding on an unpopular, yet necessary, mask requirement.

In Aug 2020, the Mitchell School District was the first and only school district in South Dakota to pass that requirement. Sioux Falls had just passed a meek recommendation. Others school boards were still deciding. We all know how politics during the most divisive election year in years had somehow made the public health issue of wearing masks during an airborne viral pandemic into a partisan issue. There were heated arguments that wearing masks somehow restricted our rights as American citizens in the same way restricting voting rights or right to bear arms might present. This was truly a bizarre time and uncomfortable position for our school board members to find themselves.

However, the school board ignored politics and followed the non-political recommendations made by the appropriate experts that are working effortlessly to help us through this pandemic. Since this has proven to be an even better decision than I might have imagined. I’ve heard some say that so many kids got sick.

But that is a false narrative and 0% sick was never an expectation. Mitchell’s students did terrific compared to similarly sized and smaller in the state. Mitchell’s decision led the way for other school districts such as Yankton and Rapid City to follow suit. Sioux Falls even met again and made an effort to have a stronger recommendation statement. Meanwhile schools without mask requirements like Watertown, Stanley County, Pierre, and Aberdeen had to temporarily shut down.

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True leadership is when you have to make a decision that isn’t favorable, but you know it is the right thing to do. Mitchell’s school board showed leadership in our community and to the state of South Dakota.

Jesse Barondeau, MD

South Dakota State Medical Association local district president