Education

State officials have released guidelines on reopening schools in the fall amid the coronavirus pandemic. The guidance includes requirements, as well as recommended “best practices,” for schools on social distancing, mask-wearing, cleaning and other measures.

“Necessary does not always equal easy,” Kentucky’s interim education commissioner Kevin Brown said during Gov. Andy Beshear’s daily briefing.

“The expectations that we’re providing today for schools and how to reopen them safely, reduce the risk, that is not easy,” Brown said. “But they are certainly necessary.”

The guidelines were developed over several months by the Kentucky Department of Public Health, with input from a state task force, the Kentucky Department of Education and state superintendents.

The document provides little new information beyond what has already been shared with local superintendents on webinars with public health officials, and leaves many decisions to individual districts, including start-dates, and whether to use digital instruction.

During the press conference, Brown emphasized the importance of wearing masks, which he said would be required when distancing is not possible. The interim commissioner has previously expressed concern that mask-wearing is becoming politicized.

“Unfortunately, wearing a mask has become a divisive issue in our Commonwealth and in our country,” Brown said. “But we’re going to need everybody in all of our communities to help our schools out, knowing that this is an expectation that needs to happen.”

“Our students, our teachers, our staff, they deserve to work and learn in an environment with reduced risk of a disease,” he said, noting that a 47-year-old welding instructor in Monroe County named John Paige had passed away from coronavirus. A 56-year-old Fayette County school bus driver, Eugenia Weathers, has also died of the disease.

Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman, who is also the secretary of the Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet, said districts will be given an unlimited number of “nontraditional instruction” (NTI) days, or remote learning days, for the 2020-2021 school year.

“This provides the flexibility to school districts to use NTI as needed for the next school year, in the event that they need to close in-person classes as a result of COVID-19 spikes within their own communities,” she said.

The state normally limits the number of days districts can use remote learning.

Coleman also announced an “expanded care” program that will allow schools to bill Medicaid for more student services. Schools can already bill Medicaid for services provided to special education students who have Individualized Education Plans (IEPs). But Coleman said next year schools will be able to bill Medicaid for students without IEPs. The program will provide a 3:1 dollar-for-dollar match for services like speech therapy, audiology and occupational therapy.

Below are the major takeaways from the state’s new guidance. More information on transportation is expected Thursday, and additional guidelines on workplace health and safety is expected June 29.

Social Distancing

Schools are to reduce class sizes and rearrange seating so students can be at least six feet apart. If the physical space does not allow for this, students in the first grade and up will be required to wear masks. Desks are to be arranged so all students are facing the same direction.

Dismissal and arrival times should be staggered. Field trips, assemblies and other large group events should be canceled. Tape should mark the floors of classrooms and hallways to remind students and staff to maintain distance.

On the bus, student should sit with their siblings, wear a mask, load back to front and leave the seat behind the driver empty.

Schools should be prepared to assist the local health department in contact tracing by providing assigned seating arrangements of classrooms to identify other students who may be at risk of infection due to a case of COVID-19 within the school.

Masks and PPE

Staff, and students in grades 1 and up, will be required to wear a mask, unless they have a medical condition that prevents it. Masks can be lowered if students are 6 feet or farther from other people and everyone is seated. Masks must be worn when moving throughout the room or building. A cloth mask is sufficient.

Providing masks will be families’ responsibility, but schools must have a plan for providing masks to students who arrive without one.

Screening

Using a touchless thermometer, schools must check students’ temperatures each morning upon entry, and screen for other symptoms of COVID-19. To ride the bus, parents must attest each morning that the student does not have a temperature of more than 100.4 degrees when boarding.

Schools must educate parents on when to keep students home from school.

Students and staff will be sent home if they show any of the following:

  • Temperature higher than 100.4 degrees
  • Cough
  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • New rash
  • Exposure to a COVID-19 case within the past 48-hour period

Schools must isolate students who show these symptoms, and have a plan if parents cannot be reached, or cannot immediately come pick the student up. Sick students cannot ride the bus home.

Cleaning & Sanitation

Hand washing supplies should be readily available. Hand sanitizers can be used when soap and water are not available. Schools should clean and disinfect surfaces daily in classrooms, gyms, cafeterias and all other facilities. Special attention should be given to high touch areas. No classroom area rugs are allowed.

Water fountains should be cleaned regularly. If possible schools should give each child their own water bottle.

Weather permitting, buses should be aired out by opening the windows after the last route.

Food Service

Lunch times should be staggered and promote social distancing. Students may eat in the classroom. If students eat in the cafeteria, surfaces must be cleaned and sanitized in between each new group of students. Assigned seating of the cafeteria and a manifest will be needed to help with contact tracing if the school has a case of COVID-19.

 

Jess Clark is WFPL's Education and Learning Reporter.