District employees deemed essential

Leslie Silverman

By Leslie Silverman


The Hill City School Board voted unanimously to deem all employees of the Hill City School District as essential at its most recent board meeting Sept. 14.

This allows for greater flexibility should an employee be exposed to COVID-19. According to the School Districts and Critical Infrastructure Workers, a memorandum prepared by the Associated School Boards of South Dakota and the South Dakota Council of School Attorneys on Aug. 24, CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guidance states “(t)o ensure continuity of operations of essential functions, CDC advises that critical infrastructure workers may be permitted to continue work following potential exposure to COVID-19, provided they remain asymptomatic and additional precautions are implemented to protect them and the community.”

The South Dakota Department of Health has a similar stance.

“The employee still has the option,” said district superintendent Blake Gardner. “I didn’t really see a scenario where we really needed it until we had an event that happened which would have potentially had an entire department quarantined.”

A worker must be asymptomatic.

“If you’re even minimally ill you're not allowed to come in,” Gardner said.

Continuing to work must also be approved by the administration.

“It’s very common for South Dakota schools to have this,” Gardner said.

The district has had its first positive COVD-19 case.

“The way it worked out was very lucky for us,” Gardner said. “The person wasn’t exposing everybody all week. I thought we handled it pretty well. We isolated it. We contact traced. We explained what we were going to do going forward. I still feel like school is the best place for our kids. I will do everything that I can to make sure our kids are in the best place for them, which is school.”

The board approved hiring an additional special education paraprofessional. The board also approved creating a weight room supervisor position, to be paid for out of fitness center funds.

Board member John Stam vocalized his reticence saying, “Your funding source is a good idea. I have just a little concern. These funds are generated by non-school individuals. The expectation I think for most is that that money will go back into the gym to buy new equipment.”

Stam recommended the board figure out a way the position benefits the public, as well. Other board members were concerned about the person filling the new position being “liable” to the public or harassed at odd hours of the night.

Board member Angie Ross was concerned the public would expect the new hire to offer nutrition or weight lifting advice.

“I think that is too much to ask anyone to do for $100 a week,” she said. “I expect 90 percent of that time to be with our students because they can’t be there unsupervised after school.”

The board voted to hire Howard Schrier for the new position.

The district recognized the retirement of paraprofessional Lila Dodd, who has been with the district for 23 years.

“There is not a better district to work in and there’s not a better job to have,” Dodd said.

According to Gardner, the district has had “its best start in 15 years” and teachers are “excited to have face-to-face interaction.”

Gardner said he has seen an “attitude of gratitude” among staff and students.

Homecoming will look “really close to how it’s always looked,” according to high school principal Todd Satter. The district will not have a dance or a carnival, but students will still have dress-up days, a parade and coronation.

Northwestern Education Association testing is complete at the elementary level.

Enrollment is up by five students from last month, but class size remains between 14 and 20 students.

Special education numbers are consistent with last year, although there has been an increase in categories that require more one-to-one staff assistance throughout the day.

The certified teachers handbook was approved by the board. The board approved a Gins Gym sponsorship banner agreement to Dan’s Dunpster. A total of $1,500 will be collected for this three-year sponsorship.

Susan McDaniel was awarded a special education paraprofessional contract.

The next Hill City School Board meeting takes place Oct. 12 at 6 p.m.

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