Education

This story has been updated.

At least one Kentucky public school is planning to hold in-person instruction next week, despite Gov. Andy Beshear’s executive order closing all private and public schools to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

The New Haven School in Nelson County Public Schools is bringing in a portion of its students for full days of instruction, according to teachers and school communications. The district superintendent said he believes the decision is in keeping with an exemption for “targeted services.” But documents show the planned format does not follow the guidelines for that exemption.

A staff meeting recording shared with WFPL News reveals New Haven School principal Tiffanie Clark is planning to have students in kindergarten through third grade attend school on a rotating schedule, or A/B schedule. A planning document for the week of Nov. 30 shows the same.

Clark said she believes this plan is permitted, because “10-ish” students would be in each classroom, and less than 15 percent of the building capacity would be in the school at one time. Documents shared with WFPL News show the groups would range in size from 6 to 12 students per adult. Between 54 and 66 students would be in the building at one time, with one group attending school on Mondays and Tuesdays, and a second group on Thursdays and Fridays. New Haven usually serves 353 students in grades K-8.

“Schools should not exceed a total school capacity of 15 percent of their usual student building capacity AND should have no more than 15 individuals in a classroom at any given time, including adults,” Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) guidance on targeted services reads. 

However, that guidance also says targeted services should be “time-bound with most experiences lasting less than two hours.” The New Haven planning document shows students will be in the building for the entire length of a normal school day, from 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.

In addition, one educator, who requested to remain anonymous to protect her job, said the instruction provided is not truly “targeted.”

“We have an absolutely full-day schedule that is primary learning — primary education,” the educator said, noting guidance says targeted services should be “supplemental” to virtual learning.

“Targeted services must be supplemental to the regular instruction received by all students during periods of remote learning,” the KDE guidance document reads. Examples include:

  • Evaluation
  • Necessary hands on experiences (career and technical education)
  • Mental health or academic counseling
  • Occupational, physical or speech therapy
  • Targeted remediation or tutoring

In an email, KDE spokeswoman Toni Konz Tatman clarified that students can “only come in for the targeted services for these reasons and that time is limited to two hours.”

Jess Clark | wfpl.org

A teacher at New Haven says the virtual schedule was offered to teachers as a template for a full-day schedule for bringing in K-3 students on a rotating schedule, beginning next week.

“Based on the executive order I just don’t understand how we can come in on the 30th…on an A/B schedule for full days and that be following the executive order. It doesn’t make sense to me,” the New Haven educator said.

Under Beshear’s order elementary schools must stay closed until Dec. 7, and can only open then if their county is not in the “red zone.”

The educator said some teachers were worried about disciplinary action from the Kentucky Department of Education.

Speaking generally, and not specifically on the New Haven school plan, KDE spokesperson Konz Tatman said failure to follow the executive order could result in disciplinary action.

“The Certified school employees are bound by the Professional Code of Ethics and may be subject to disciplinary action by the Education Professional Standards Board (EPSB) for violation of the Professional Code of Ethics,” she wrote.

“Furthermore, [state law] provides for the removal or suspension of public school officers, including local board members, for immorality, misconduct in office, incompetence, willful neglect of duty or nonfeasance.”

“We certainly hope we don’t get to this point and expect that our districts will comply with the law,” she wrote.

New Haven Principal Tiffanie Clark did not respond to request for comment, but Nelson County School Superintendent Wes Bradley said he believes New Haven is following the executive order, and using the exemption for small groups.

“I think this is why the governor allows for the small groups, that schools are the life source for students, and to keep some of our most needy kids out of our schools in small groups would be more concerning,” Bradley told WFPL News.

“K-3 was chosen largely because those are the students that are going to have the most challenges in a virtual world,” he said.

However, Bradley did not address the discrepancy between New Haven’s full-day schedule and KDE guidance limiting targeted services to under two hours.

Nelson County, like nearly all of the state, is in the “red zone,” with 79.7 average daily cases per 100,000 people as of Monday, signifying uncontrolled spread of COVID-19.

Bradley said he believes being in school is safer for students than being at home, noting recent comments from CDC director Robert Redfield that coronavirus infections found in schools are usually “not acquired in schools,” but in the community.

“It’s obvious that schools are safe, if they’re following the Healthy At School guidelines,” Bradley said.

As reported by Wave 3, Nelson County teachers have already reached out to Beshear over concerns about being required to continue to report to work in the school building and provide childcare for employees while schools were in virtual instruction.

New Haven is not the only school at odds with Beshear’s executive order. Highlands Latin School in Louisville announced it would ignore the governor’s order, according to the Courier-Journal. Danville Christian Academy has filed a complaint against the governor over the closure mandate. State Attorney General Daniel Cameron joined the school’s lawsuit.

Clarification: The caption for the New Haven schedule diagram has been changed. While this diagram was originally intended for virtual students, and not for in-person small groups, WFPL News has been told the schedule was later offered as a template for structuring full-day in-person instruction beginning the week of Nov. 30.

Jess Clark is WFPL's Education and Learning Reporter.