School mask mandate draws a crowd in Rapid City

RAPID CITY, S.D. (AP) — The issue of wearing masks at school to protect against COVID-19 drew a standing-room-only, boisterous crowd to a Rapid City school board meeting.

It was a scene that has similarly played out at many local school board meetings around the country. Parents and others on both sides of the issue demonstrated outside Rapid City High School before the meeting Tuesday night and then packed into the auditorium to weigh in on a mask mandate.

The board voted 5-2 not to imposed a temporary two-week mask requirement, a mandate backed by board member Amy Policky who argued that there was currently a high volume of students absent from school due to COVID, and that there aren’t enough staff to adequately supervise all classes let alone teach them.

“We all hoped to go back to normal this school year. We all hoped COVID was behind us this school year,” Policky said. “We never anticipated that we would have this many cases at the beginning of school. So regardless of our hope, we have to look at our reality. And we heard from the doctors, the reality is the hospitals are full, our schools are taxed… we have to realize we can’t stick with what we promised when we hoped that things were going to be different this year.”

Several times throughout the meeting the crowd erupted into cheering, booing and heckling, prompting board members to ask for civility.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the school district had 35 coronavirus cases among staff and 254 student cases.