Back-to-school plan fine tuned

Ron Burtz
With school starting in one week, the Custer School District is still working to refine its back-to-school plan and prepare for the possibility of another round of coronavirus shutdowns in the coming school year. 
At its monthly meeting Aug. 10, the board of education moved to improve the health environment in school buildings by approving putting out for bid for an innovative new filtration system to be installed in the buildings’ heating and air conditioning units. 
The air filtering system developed by Global Plasma Solutions has been proven to kill the COVID-19 virus and eliminate other allergens when tested by the U.S. Department of Defense. School officials said the system, which has been installed in both the White House and Air Force One, kills 99.9 percent of mold spores and has been shown to kill bacteria on surfaces. 
Superintendent Mark Naugle said, since the units for the three buildings will cost more than $50,000, the project needs to go through the competitive bidding process. 
The review of the back-to-school plan led to lengthy and sometimes heated discussion. Naugle emphasized the document is a “work in process” which will need revisions as the school year progresses. 
In going over recent changes to the plan, Naugle pointed out that the district is dropping a requirement for daily screenings and will instead encourage parents to screen their children at home by taking daily temperature readings, etc. 
One provision that sparked controversy was the requirement for drivers and students on daily route busses to wear face masks. Board members Jeff Prior and Travis Hartshorn questioned who would enforce the mandate and suggested that mask wearing should instead be a strong recommendation. It was pointed out that the bus company with which the school contracts with does not have a mask requirement. 
After polling the board members, it was decided to remove the mask mandate; however, students will still be required to wear them on activities busses in compliance with S.D. High School Activities Association policies. 
Another contentious issue was the decision to not allow spectators at indoor tournaments such as the season-opening Custer Invitational Volleyball Tournament at the end of August. 
Prior said he had “a major issue” with not allowing parents to attend such events, asking what would happen if a student got injured. 
Board member Bob Morgan agreed, saying the tournament should be open to the public.
“If the masks work and you believe they do, then wear one. If not, leave it at home,” said Morgan. 
The school board moved to designate all teachers as “essential personnel” to avoid having to send a staff member home to isolate for 14 days if he or she had close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19. 
It was also stated that under federal law, all school employees are entitled to 80 hours of paid leave if they test positive for COVID-19 or are taking care of someone who has it. 
Naugle reported on the results of a survey of district parents on “in-district or distance by choice learning.” The report showed that 336 parents, or 81.16 percent, responded that they will send their students back to the classroom and 78 (18.84 percent) parents said they will keep their children home this year. 

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