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County in the red zone; in-person learning delayed

Clark County students won’t be going back to school Friday after all.

The county is now in the COVID-19 “red zone,” and after consulting with the local public health officials, Superintendent Paul Christy has decided to take a cautionary approach, postponing the district’s “A-B hybrid model” of in-person and virtual learning that was supposed to have gone into effect Oct. 30. Now the plan is to wait until at least Nov. 4.

Christy made the announcement Wednesday on the Clark County Public Schools web page and on social media.

“Over the past weeks, the numbers of positive cases and other contributing factors in our community have continued to increase,” he wrote. 

As of 5 p.m. Wednesday, the Clark County Health Department had calculated tine county’s infection rate at 25.2 per 100,000 population. Those numbers will not be reflected on the state’s website, kycovid19.ky.gov, until the local numbers are confirmed at the state level, Christy said.

“We will evaluate the community case numbers daily. At this time, all students will continue with distance learning instruction” through next Wednesday, the superintendent said.

“We will continue to work with our local health department using COVID-19 daily updates regarding Clark County’s current status to assess what is best for the safety of all stakeholders,” he said.

Christy said the community will be notified of a possible return-to-school date by Nov. 3.

“We looked at a lot of factors, not just the positivity rate,” Christy said in an interview Thursday morning. “We are not seeing an increase … in the numbers of our students and our staff,” he said, but with the rising numbers in the community, there was a higher possibility of COVID-19 spreading through contact in the schools. 

“The numbers are exploding in the counties around us, and we have a lot of folks who live in those counties who work for us, so these are extra precautions that we’re taking right now,” Christy said. “We’re going to be looking at several data points to determine — can we by the end of next week get back to school?”

The superintendent said he hopes the situation will improve to the point where students could return to classes by next Thursday.

Christy said he talked with school board members Wednesday night.

“I feel like they’re supportive of what we’ve done,” he said. “We’ve tried to answer quesetions and keep them up to date as to what our plans are.”

Students and staff in all Kentucky school districts were sent home in March under the governor’s directive because of the coronavirus pandemic, and school officials hoped the number of infections would decline enough during the summer that students could return to classes for the fall semester. But the numbers spiked, and with the onset of autumn, they rose even higher. 

Most Kentucky counties are now in the red, or danger zone, meaning there are 25 or more infections per 100,000.

On Aug. 3, the Clark County Board of Education had voted, on the recommendation of Christy and Public Health Director Becky Kissick, to have virtual learning for the first nine weeks of classes. But the superintendent, who has the ultimate authority to decide, said he would consider an earlier return if the numbers improved for three consecutive weeks. They never did.

Thursday would have been the end of the nine weeks, and Christy had proposed, based on the recommendations of his administration’s coronavirus task force, that the return to school would be implemented through an A-B hybrid model. 

Half of students would return to the schools on Mondays and Tuesdays, and the other half on Thursdays and Fridays. Wednesdays the schools would be closed for cleaning and disinfecting, and on the days students were at home, they would be taught online.

The reason for the model is that according to public health guidelines, students should be seated at least six feet apart and wear masks to reduce the likelihood of inhaling moisture particles containing the virus from other students’ breath. In most classrooms, there isn’t enough room for all students to return to classes at the same time and still “social distance.”

Students would also have the option of all-virtual learning if their parents didn’t feel comfortable with them returning to in-person classes.

During distance learning, students who were struggling or who needed one-on-one or small group instruction were being brought into the schools for short periods of time. Now that is temporarily suspended. So are all athletic events and practices and extracurricular activities.

“Student participation is still a requirement for attendance purposes,” Christy said in his letter. 

“Staff will report to their buildings at regular times unless other arrangements are made with building administrators,” he said.

Christy said Thursday that 25 to 30 percent of the students had been coming into the schools for four hours a day, and on Friday, that would have increased to 35 percent of the students for seven hours a day. 

“The principals had presented all their plans, and we were ready to go with this tomorrow,” he said Thursday. “But I talked with our board members last night, and I think they understand where we are right now.” … I’ve changed some things based on comments of my board members and administrators and our Health Department. Those are the folks I”m listening to, and our parents. I’ve had a lot of positive calls today about the decision, and I’m fully aware of the pressures and the inconveniences this puts on parents and day care … and those kinds of things, but we’ve got to look at the overall safety of our students and our staff.”

Families may continue to pick up meals for students between 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. Monday through Friday at any school locations except for The Phoenix Academy and Clark County Preschool, Christy announced. The meal schedule will continue regardless of distance or in-person learning.

“Stopping the increase of local cases and returning our students to in-person instruction will require all of us working together as a community,” Christy said in his letter.

He encouraged members of the community to continue to follow Centers for Disease Control and Clark County Health Department guidelines and asked them to refer to Clark County Public Schools social media accounts for updates and school activity changes.

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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