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Schools to go virtual first nine weeks

Clark County public school students will still be returning to classes Sept. 8, but not to classrooms.

During a special meeting Monday night, the Board of Education voted 3-2 for the first nine weeks of school to be by distance learning. The board will re-evaluate that decision, however, at its first regularly scheduled meeting in September.

It was the recommendation of Superintendent of Schools Paul Christy and Clark County Public Health Director Becky Kissick that classes be online for the first nine weeks, and Christy suggested that the situation be re-evaluated after 30 days.

“At the present time, I do not feel we’re ready to bring the students back” into the school buildings, Christy said.

Kissick cited the recent rise in COVID-19 infections in Clark County and Kentucky and concerns that reopening schools now could make those numbers go even higher.

She said that while the percentage of people in the state who are testing positive has gone down slightly in recent days, it is currently at 5.43, and anything above 5 is a “red flag.”

Several teachers, including Kait Greenwell, who feared for her unborn child and her 4-year-old, said they weren’t comfortable going back to school yet.

The teachers expressed concerns for the health and safety of the children, their families and the faculty and staff.

“Some students and some teachers will not make it through this,” Kiley Jones, a teacher at Robert D. Campbell Junior High School, said.

No one in the audience spoke in favor of resuming in-person classes.

Board Member William Taulbee’s motion was also approved by Scott Hisle and Ashley Richardson, the chair. The no votes were those of Sherry Richardson and Gordon Parido.

“We know it’s not the best scenario,” Taulbee said. “I really want to have kids in classrooms. But with the increase in cases, right now there’s just no way” he could feel good about them going  back to class. 

The board previously decided this summer to resume in-person classes for all students at the same time but allow those whose parents didn’t feel comfortable with going back into school to opt for virtual learning instead.

In a survey before the board vote, more than one-third of parents preferred that their children not return to in-person classes.

When on-campus classes do resume, Christy said, it may be that not all students will return at the same time.

Hisle suggested that if the first nine weeks were going to be online, school officials should consider starting sooner.

But Christy, Taulbee and others said they would prefer to give teachers, parents and students enough time to learn a new online platform, and Christy said he wanted to have new Chromebook computers for students delivered before classes resume, and they should arrive before Sept. 8.

Christy also wanted to give working parents an opportunity to make arrangements for having their children at home.

“I just want to give parents ample time to prepare, because this does affect people,” Christy said.

During the meeting, Parido asked Christy whether he was prepared to close the schools regardless of what the board decided. Parido acknowledged the superintendent has the authority to do in the event of a health threat.

Christy indicated that he would.

“I believe it’s not safe,” he said.

The same night in Jessamine County, the superintendent overrode a school board vote to delay students returning to classes for the first two weeks and to make learning virtual during that time.

Fayette County Schools have also decided to start classes online, and Montgomery County has opted for a hybrid plan, pairing instruction and virtual learning on alternate days.

Also during the meeting, the board approved an agreement for the purchase of the Chromebooks for students in grades 3-12.

The next day, there was another special meeting for an emergency reading of an interim policy update regarding sexual harassment policy.

The next school board meeting is 6:30 p.m. Aug. 17. School officials are expected to re-evaluate the Monday’s decision at the Sept. 21 meeting.

About Randy Patrick

Randy Patrick is a reporter for Bluegrass Newsmedia, which includes The Jessamine Journal. He may be reached at 859-759-0015 or by email at randy.patrick@bluegrassnewsmedia.com.

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