Education

Gov. Andy Beshear is recommending that Kentucky schools postpone in-person classes until Sept. 28.

Beshear announced the recommendation during his Monday briefing. It followed a meeting with school superintendents earlier in the day. By preemptively delaying in-person sessions, he said schools can avoid the disruption caused by sudden closures due to positive COVID-19 cases among students and staff.

“We are making what we believe is a realistic recommendation,” he said. “It’s a tough one, but one we believe it can give us some success. It is one where we are not going to simply say two weeks from now… and then delay it two weeks from then and potentially prevent school systems from taking some steps to do the best they can to educate our kids, even if it’s remotely during that period.”

Schools are free to start the school year with remote learning prior to the recommended date. Beshear said the state will work with districts that want to significantly alter their schedules in an effort to have more in-person school days. Several Kentucky school districts, including Jefferson County Public Schools, previously announced they would start the school year with virtual instruction.

Beshear cited several reasons that led to his decision, including his belief that the state is currently at a peak for coronavirus cases. He also pointed to an increasing number of cases among children and at schools in Indiana, some of which have shut down because of outbreaks of the virus. He also noted families are taking summer vacations and culd potentially bring infections back to their local areas.

Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman, a career educator, said it’s important to think about all parties involved, including school employees, when making decisions about reopening schools.

“More than anything, our educators deserve to be able to return to a place of work that is healthy and that is safe,” she said. “It is not fair for all of the requirements that have been placed on our schools, for our teachers to be doing a bulk of that work in a situation where they could be putting their health at risk. The responsible thing to do is to respect our schools’ employees, our faculty and the families they go home to every night.”

Prior to the press conference, the Kentucky Education Association released a statement urging local school districts to begin the year with virtual instruction. The current community spread of the coronavirus now is just as prevalent as it was in spring, when schools originally opted for distanced learning, the organization said.

“KEA calls on school district decision makers, specifically superintendents and school boards, to make the responsible decision to protect students and educators by closing schools to in-person instruction and beginning the 2020-21 school year virtually for all students,” the statement reads. “We applaud and fully support the many school districts that have already made the right decision and hope that others will follow those examples of leadership during challenging times. But there is no more time to waste: making this decision now allows educators to plan and develop meaningful online instruction and gives parents the time they need to prepare.”

Governor allows bars to reopen, with restrictions

The governor also announced that bars will be allowed to reopen Tuesday, but for seated service only and with other limits. 

Restaurants will be allowed to increase their capacity to 50% from 25%. Both bars and restaurants will have to stop food and drink service by 10 p.m. and close by 11 p.m.

“If we don’t [reopen bars], people are pushed towards large house parties we’ve seen in other states, where absolutely no rules are followed,” Beshear said. “Our goal is to have the right structured rules where people can have that outlet if they’re looking for it, but to be in a safe place and for it to be done in a safe manner.”

Beshear said the number of new coronavirus cases on Monday was artificially low due to a computer glitch. The state reported 275 new cases, bringing its total to 35,254. That number is expected to be revised, according to Beshear.

“That needs to have a giant asterisk on it, because we know that number is higher and will change,” Beshear said. “To give you an idea, we had 300 plus last Monday, and I think we’ll be around that same mark.”

John Boyle covers southern Indiana communities and health for WFPL News. He is a Report for America Corps member.