Schools likely to remain closed until Jan. 11

Gov. Andy Beshear, the Kentucky Department of Education and the Department for Public Health are recommending that schools remain closed until Jan. 11, and on Monday, Clark County Superintendent of Schools Paul Christy said he was inclined to go along with that.

The governor’s executive order had come out Friday afternoon, and he was about to discuss it with staff Monday morning, so he had not yet made a decision.

“That’s probably where I’m headed with that, but we’re going to get through Christmas” and then decide “in plenty of time” before Jan. 4, when the school district had intended to resume in-person learning.

Jan. 4 had also been the governor’s target date for returning to classrooms for those school district’s not in the “red zone,” meaning 25 or more COVID cases per 100,000 population for the county. As of Dec. 18, Clark County was at 47.7 cases per 100,000 and had 188 active cases.

“We’ve been seeing some pretty high numbers here in the last week and a half,” Christy said.

He said he will make his decision after consulting with his staff, the academic team and the county’s health department.

Christy anticipated being questioned about his decision at the school board meeting Monday night, which occurred after this issue of The Winchester Sun went to press.

“My answer to them tonight is going to be, ‘It’s too early to tell,'” he said. But if he had to make a decision Monday, he added, it would be to remain in distance learning until at least Jan. 11.

He said it wasn’t on the agenda for a vote Monday night, but they could discuss it.

“It’s come down to the fact that it’s a superintendent’s decision and a district decision,” he said.

At the last school board meeting, in November, the board voted against remaining virtual until Jan. 4, but Christy has the final authority on the issue, as most superintendents do, and the governor ultimately decided the issue by executive order.

On Friday, the governor issued a new executive order, but it is only a recommendation that school buildings remain closed to students until Jan. 11. However, Christy said, KDE and the state health department are also making that recommendation because the infection numbers, although have been reduced since the governor put in place several measures to limit the spread of the  coronavirus, are still high.

Last Thursday 54 Kentuckians died from COVID, a record for the state.

Christy said the Jan. 11 start date was chosen because it takes into account the 10-day incubation period for the viral disease after New Year’s celebrations. 

“With vaccines arriving this week, we can see the bright light at the end of the tunnel. Now we just need everyone to keep doing their part to protect one another,” Beshear said Friday.

The Pfizer vaccine arrived a week ago and is designated for larger regional hospitals and residents and employees in nursing homes and assisted living facilities. The Moderna vaccine approved last week by the federal Food and Drug Administration is expected to be distributed to local health departments as early as this week to administer to public health employees and first responders, such as emergency medical technicians, firefighters and police officers.

 

Return to classrooms

 

The governor’s executive order Friday included Department of Education guidance for returning to in-person learning that allows counties in the red category to bring students back, but it is more stringent. Districts must maintain a virtual learning program for all students who want it, which Clark County does, and schools may use a hybrid model of instruction like Clark County’s, except that it must reduce the number of students allowed in the buildings at one time to 25 percent or less of the normal capacity.

“That means that at any given time when you’re in the red, you would only have 25 percent or less of your students in the building at a time,” Christy said, but the district would still have to do everything as if it were serving all 5,500 students, including running full bus routes. At that point, he said, the question is whether it is economically and academically feasible to do that for only a quarter of the students each day.

 

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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