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Teachers concerned over school year; RCAS confirms 20 COVID-19 cases among staff, students

Published: Sep. 3, 2020 at 9:15 AM MDT
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UPDATE: As of 9:09 a.m. Thursday, one of the anonymous teachers interviewed as part of this report has received a face shield, but claims they still have not received masks at their school.

RAPID CITY, S.D. (KOTA) - With Rapid City schools set to start in less than a week, first-day-of-school jitters are being amplified by fears of coronavirus. Districts across the state are already seeing cases enter triple digits, but where does that leave the Rapid City Area Schools?

According to Katy Urban, public information manager for RCAS, schools have already been hit.

In an e-mail on Thursday, Urban wrote that there are currently 20 cases of COVID-19 among faculty and students across the district. Urban added in an on-camera interview that teachers receive a general notification whenever a school is exposed, although these notices will not made publicly available to families until schools start on Sept. 8.

However, an anonymous source has provided us with a general notification e-mail that contains a list of schools with at least one case of coronavirus within the building.

This list includes:

  • Stevens High School
  • Central High School
  • East Middle School
  • Southwest Middle School
  • General Beadle Elementary School
  • Horace Mann Elementary School
  • Knollwood Elementary School
  • Meadowbrook Elementary School
20 cases identified across 8 Rapid City schools; anonymous teachers share concerns
20 cases identified across 8 Rapid City schools; anonymous teachers share concerns(RCAS staff)

However, an anonymous source shared an allegation to a reporter that a positive test at one school may have gone unreported after a colleague was told to report to work while waiting for her test results to come through.

“Our human resources [officer] told that employee not to tell anyone that they were possibly infected. That’s crazy!” one teacher exclaimed. “I don’t understand that. They’re putting everybody in our building at risk.”

The colleague, this teacher alleges, later went on to quarantine for 14 days after getting her test results.

Urban defended the RCAS administration, saying they are actively focused on keeping their students safe during an uncertain time.

“We are doing our best to put a number of precautions in place. Certainly, there are going to be things that come up. This is a fluid situation and things are ever-changing.”

She adds they have plans in place to ensure parents are well-informed of any future cases: “We are trying to do our best to be transparent, and by next week, we are going to have a dashboard on our website that will list the number of active cases in our district, in number of total cases and the number of teachers and staff who are in quarantine.”

While there may be no right answer to any district’s back-to-school approach, some teachers feel their leadership is taking them down the wrong path.

“I know my administration is doing the best they can. I just don’t think it’s enough,” an anonymous high school teacher said.

KOTA Territory News reached out to multiple teachers to gather their outlook on the upcoming school year - warts and all.

Anonymously, teachers from the elementary and high school levels reached out, shedding light on a number of issues.

The two educators that were willing to speak out during anonymous, on-camera interviews corroborated the following claims: that they have not received some articles of personal protective equipment (PPE), including masks and gloves; and they do not have enough hand sanitizer and anti-bacterial wipes to last them throughout at least the fall semester.

While these teachers do say they currently have some supplies on hand, one educator shared with us a recorded conversation of a private meeting between a RCAS principal and teachers.

In the recording, an unknown school official can be heard saying that “sanitation wipes, masks, gloves - well, the whole world is after those things as well. The supply is not keeping up with the demand worldwide, but we have to realize we might not have wipes all the time - we might not have the things we need just due to lack of supply.”

Urban disputes these assertions: “We worked very hard over the summer to stock up [on cleaning supplies and PPE]. We feel like we are in a very good spot at this point. Certainly, things might change as the year goes on, but we will continue to order ahead.”

The anonymous educators both shared unconfirmed reports that the school district will likely close their campus’ doors a few weeks into the school year - that teachers will meet their students in-person for at least a week to distribute supplies and establish a routine before entering Level 3 of their Together Again Back to School Plan.

This tier is meant for scenarios where there is a substantial spread of COVID-19 at a school that necessitates transitioning all students to long-distance learning courses.

Additionally, teachers also described a “lack of communication” from RCAS administrators. They claim that there has not been a consistent message from their leadership, but instead many voices - school principals, fellow teachers, etc. - that are collectively putting together many, occasionally conflicting ideas.

In the end, however, their biggest concern is the safety of their students.

“I’ve heard the argument that they should be in school for their mental health. Normally, I would agree with that, but if school can lead to people getting sick and dying, I don’t think that’s going to help anyone’s mental health,” an anonymous teacher finished.

Copyright 2020 KEVN. All rights reserved.

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