Our K-12 schools had the good sense this spring to cancel their scheduled standardized tests when coronavirus made gathering that many people in a room for extended periods of time a health hazard. But with South Dakota’s active coronavirus cases rising again, and with people in their twenties and thirties making up the two largest groups of coronavirus cases in South Dakota, the mostly young individuals wishing to practice law in South Dakota still must gather in Pierre this week to sit in a room with maybe fifty to a hundred other applicants for four three-and-a-half-hour sessions this Tuesday and Wednesday to complete the state bar exam.
The state’s bar examiners are implementing these precautions for coronavirus:
COVID-19 TESTING PROTOCOLS
SCREENING QUESTIONS AND TEMPERATURE CHECKS
- All examinees, administrators, and proctors will be asked COVID-19 screening questions and have their temperature taken before entering the testing site on each day of the exams.
- Examinees with a temperature of 100.4 or higher, or showing symptoms consistent with COVID-19 will not be allowed to sit for the exam; their application will be transferred to the February 2021 exam.
- Examinees who have been ill in the two weeks prior to the exam or who have been in close contact with someone who has been ill in the two weeks prior to the exam may not be allowed to sit for the exam.
- In the weeks prior to the exam, examinees are encouraged to self-isolate, minimize contact with others, and take related precautions.
- All examinees will wear a mask when entering and exiting the testing site and moving around the testing site to use a restroom.
- All examinees will wear a mask when interacting with testing staff.
- While masks will be available at the testing site, examinees are encouraged to test masks for personal comfort prior to the exam and bring their own masks.
- The use of gloves is at the examinees option. Gloves will be available at the site, but examinees are encouraged to bring their own.
SOCIAL DISTANCING/TALKING/HAND HYGIENE
- Examinees must remain six feet apart when in line to enter or exit the exam site, and during the administration of the exam.
- No unnecessary talking will be permitted at the exam site.
- Examinees are strongly encouraged to use hand sanitizer and engage in hand washing when entering the exam site and while at the exam site. Hand sanitizers will be available at the exam site, but examinees are encouraged to bring their own that does not irritate their skin [protocol notice to South Dakota State Bar Exam takers, received by DFP 2020.07.26].
There is no remote option or alternative setting or date for South Dakota’s bar exam yet. Any prospective lawyer who chooses not to risk exposing herself or others to coronavirus in this unsafe public setting has to wait until the next scheduled bar exam sitting in February 2021… by which time their student loan payment period will have kicked in but 80% of their job offers will not.
With that much at stake, test-takers may be disinclined to answer honestly the screening questions related to item #3 at the top of those protocols. The screeners at the bar exam will have no contract-tracing data or other information to help verify the responses test-takers give at the door. It’s all honor system, and when the state is placing law graduates in such a precarious situation, honor may give way to practical self-interest.
Any test-taker wishing to use a contact-tracing app is thwarted by the ban on bringing phones into the test site.
With all these risks, bar examinees are still required to sign a waiver stating they are acting entirely of their own volition in choosing to take the bar exam and excusing the Board of Bar Examiners from any responsibility for infection that may ensue:
I am choosing to sit for the July 2020 bar exam despite the risk of exposure or infection to Covid-19. I acknowledge that the South Dakota Board of Bar Examiners and its directors, officers, agents, employees and volunteers are likely immune from any liability related to administering the South Dakota Bar Exam but I nevertheless agree to fully release them from any claim relating to Covid-19 exposure associated with my sitting for the July 2020 exam [“Covid-19 Code of Conduct and Release for the July 2020, South Dakota Bar Examination,” received by DFP 2020.07.26].
Five states are offering online bar exam options, but concerns about cheating mean most aspiring lawyers, in South Dakota and elsewhere, face a difficult choice between their professional and financial needs or personal and public health.