School districts look to balance transparency with privacy

Published: Aug. 24, 2020 at 6:55 PM CDT
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HURON, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - Along with keeping students and staff safe and informed, school districts in South Dakota are working out how they’ll keep communities in the loop about any potential COVID-19 cases in their districts.

With activities and classes underway, cases are bound to pop up in between students and faculty, according to officials around the state. With that comes the need to not only inform communities when there may have been exposure to someone with the virus, but also respecting the privacy of students and families. Huron Superintendent Terry Nebelsick said that each community will have to find their own way of reaching out to their community, to better relay information.

“Every community has it’s own set of norms, it’s own habits, it’s own protocols. And people need to be respectful that they do not have to be identical from one community to another.” said Nebelsick.

Nebelsick recently sent out a community wide post on Facebook and Twitter, to inform residents about a case ov COVID-19 on the high school football team. However it’s something he said won’t happen frequently, and only in cases of urgent need.

“I think that I have to be selective on when I put things out. So that people know, this is significant. The superintendent has taken aside time, to let us know that we need to go tune on what that is. And I think that if we had things going out all the time from my office, then I’d become part of a community discussion. And that’s not really my goal.”

Down south in Mitchell, students and families can to see more frequent updates from the school district. Superintendent Joseph Graves said that while most communication about specific cases will remain as confidential as possible, families and residents can expect weekly updates about the exact case numbers within the district, and if any action will be taken on isolating classrooms.

“We’re going to send out daily communications when it’s appropriate to a classroom or a specific group of people. And then at the end of each week, on a Friday, we’re going to put out a text and email push, that has the summary data for each of our buildings. In that way, people can an idea of whether their own child has been infected potentially, or we can get an idea of just how things are occurring in the school district and the community at large.” said Graves.

Both superintendents say that moving forward, the key to proper communication between the districts and their respective communities will be finding the balance of releasing information, and maintaining the privacy of those potentially infected.

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