Education
The Kentucky School Boards Association found 165 of 171 districts decided to keep masks mandatory.Kentucky School Boards Association

The Kentucky School Boards Association found 165 of 171 districts decided to keep masks mandatory.

All but six of Kentucky’s 171 school districts made masks mandatory for students as a statewide mask requirement from the Kentucky Department of Education lifted Friday morning. That’s according to a survey by the Kentucky School Boards Association.

The GOP-led legislature put the onus on districts to decide whether to require masks when they scrapped the statewide school mask requirement during last week’s special legislative session. Districts had to enact their mask policies by Friday morning in order to have rules on the books when the state mandate lifted.

Most districts, 165 in all, created universal masking policies, at least for the near future. Some of them, such as Barren County Schools and Danville Independent Schools, tied their mask requirements to the local COVID-19 incidence rate.

“Universal masking will continue as long as the county falls into the red zone on the state incidence rate map. When we move out of the red zone for seven consecutive days, masking will then become optional,” Barren County Schools Superintendent Bo Matthews wrote in a recent letter to families

On Friday, all but one of Kentucky’s 120 counties were in the red zone due to the delta variant of COVID-19 and low vaccination rates. That means they had more than 25 cases per 100,000 residents.

A screenshot of the Kentucky Department of Public Health's COVID-19 dashboard shows all but one Kentucky county in the red zone Friday.Kentucky Department of Public Health

A screenshot of the Kentucky Department of Public Health’s COVID-19 dashboard shows all but one Kentucky county in the red zone Friday.

Several districts, such as Warren County Public Schools, McCreary County Schools and Trimble County Schools, are requiring masks for now but said they planned to revisit the mandate at a later date. District leaders said they wanted to create their own thresholds for when masks will be required.

The six districts with mask-optional policies are:

Of these six districts, all but Clinton County Schools are in the red zone. Clinton County is in the orange zone, with between 10 and 25 cases per 100,000 residents.

The widespread interest in mask mandates among school boards is somewhat of a sea change for the state. Before the statewide mask mandate went into effect in August, a WFPL survey of districts found nearly two-thirds planned to start the school year without a mask requirement, even though the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends universal masking in K-12 settings.

Some districts that started the school year without a mask mandate changed course after in-school exposures forced them to quarantine hundreds of students and staff in the first days of school.

Jess Clark is WFPL's Education and Learning Reporter.