Education Health

Gov. Andy Beshear’s executive order closing schools to in-person learning next week is drawing mixed reactions from school leaders around the state.

The Kentucky Education Association (KEA) praised Gov. Beshear’s decision to close all public and private schools starting Nov. 23, calling it “a step that will save lives.” 

Meanwhile, Kentucky Association of School Superintendents (KASS) Executive Director Jim Flynn said opinions vary among the state’s 170-plus district leaders.

“There are some that are relieved of this, and then I know there are some that are disappointed,” Flynn said.

Before Beshear’s order, some districts had planned to continue in-person instruction, despite being in the red zone, including Carroll County Schools. 

“We are very disappointed and saddened to say that our schools will be transitioning back to distance learning,” said Carroll County Schools Superintendent Superintendent Danny Osborne in a statement. “Our intention was to remain open as long as the spread of COVID within our schools remained low. That being said, I do understand where Gov. Beshear is coming from with this directive.”

Many superintendents say they do not believe schools have been a significant source of spread. 

“We’ve gotten reports from public health officials at both the local and state levels….schools really aren’t contributing to the surge,” Flynn said. 

In Louisville, public health officials have made similar assurances. Louisville Metro Public Health Director Sarah Moyer has said she has not seen evidence of significant spread within the private schools that have been operating in-person in Jefferson County.

John Wright, communications director for Hardin County Schools, said he’s heard the same from local health department officials and from Baptist Health Hardin.

“We’ve been told that,” he said. “The uptick was not a school deal.”

Still, Hardin County was one of about 80 districts the Kentucky School Boards Association said had already announced they would be in remote learning next week, even before Beshear’s order came down. Wright said the spread outside of school in the community had forced so many staff to quarantine that the district struggled to operate. 

“We had approximately 40 classrooms that could not be covered,” he said. 

Hardin County Schools have been in remote instruction since the beginning of November.

A similar situation has played out in districts across the state this month, including in Shelby County. Until this week, the district had been holding in-person classes despite being in the red zone.

“Until this point, we weren’t really seeing any COVID transmission in the schools,” Shelby County Schools Superintendent Sally Sugg said. “But we were seeing so many people that were on our staff quarantined because they had come in contact with someone out in the community that was COVID-positive that it was beginning to be a problem to even cover our classes.”

According to the state’s K-12 Coronavirus Dashboard, more than 6,000 students and 1,100 staff were quarantined statewide last week. 

Suggs, Wright and Flynn each urged community members to follow health guidelines that prevent the spread of the virus so that students can return to the classroom.

“Unfortunately what happens outside of school affects what happens in school. And I think that’s why we’re where we are now,” Flynn said.

Meanwhile the Kentucky High School Athletic Association has decided to delay the start of the winter sports season. Many winter sports are played indoors, where the virus spreads more easily. Those sports include basketball, wrestling, swimming and diving, dance and competitive cheerleading. 

The KHSAA board of control voted Wednesday to delay competition until Jan. 4, and official practices until Dec. 14. 

Jefferson County Public Schools has suspended all winter sports practices, official and unofficial, until Dec. 14. The district will allow football teams to practice and compete in postseason play, though coronavirus infections and quarantine among athletes have already forced several teams to drop out.

Jess Clark is WFPL's Education and Learning Reporter.