FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ) – Masks and social distancing will be the new norm for schools this fall.
And for those who might balk at the new rules, “Wearing a mask is more comfortable than wearing a ventilator,” Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman said Wednesday during a question and answer session after she and interim state Education Commissioner Kevin Brown unveiled coronavirus-opening rules that have been in the works for weeks.
Coleman and Brown said superintendets have been involved in the process for weeks and school districts are given the flexibility to meet their own “unique” needs while still protecting the health and safety of students, staff and families.
For example, students will be required to be six feet away from each other in classrooms, but if that’s not possible, they must wear masks.
On the flip side, if schools have the space to spread out in classrooms, students won’t have to wear a mask.
Also, the guidance says school buses can be fully loaded, but masks have to be worn and temperature checks must be taken, or a parent must assure the district their child does not have a temperature over 100.4. However, every student will be check upon entry to the school.
Officials says students will be sent home if they have a temp higher than 100.4, are experiencing sickness such as vomiting, or have been exposed to a COVID-positive person in the last 48 hours.
Brown says the state quickly adapted before, and says he knows school districts can do it again.
“Seeing what I saw in our school districts, all 172 of them, what they did last semester, even though it was imperfect, even though non-traditional instruction is imperfect, what they did and how they did it tells me that they will be doing this and they will be meeting those expectations because that’s the best thing for their students,” says Brown.
Education officials say a part of the flexible plan is allowing districts to continue online learning indefinitely, or staggering their in-person classroom instruction.
In light of that, they say average daily attendance will not be factored into funding given to districts for the upcoming year and the cap of 10 non-traditional instruction days is temporarily suspended.
“One of my top priorities as we have fought against the coronavirus is ensuring our children can safely return to school in the fall,” said Gov. Andy Beshear said in handing the announcement over to Brown and Coleman. “Our top health experts and our educators have worked together to craft this guidance to take the necessary steps to protect our children and our dedicated staff as they return to school.”
The interim Guidance on Safety Expectations and Best Practices for Kentucky Schools covers kindergarten through 12th-grade instruction in the commonwealth.
“It is critical for everyone to do their part as good neighbors and good Americans to follow this guidance to protect our children, teachers and school personnel, and stop coronavirus outbreaks that would spread the disease, cost us more Kentuckians and further damage our economy,”Beshear said.
These safety expectations were written with input from the Education Continuation Task Force as well as the Governors Office, Department for Public Health, Kentucky Department of Education, the Cabinet of Education and Workforce Development and the Cabinet for Health and Family Services. Throughout this process, stakeholders from all areas of education have been engaged to provide input and expertise.
Brown stressed the importance of wearing masks to keep schools open and students, teachers and staff members safe. He noted that we’ve already lost people key to our education community to COVID-19.
“I want to re-emphasize why it is important to have these expectations, why it is important that your child wears a mask at school. Its important because we need to protect teachers like John Page,” Brown said, noting Page, a welding instructor at Monroe County Area Technology Center, died recently of coronavirus at only 47 years old.
“Our welding instructors, our teachers, our students, our staff deserve to work and learn in an environment with a reduced risk of a disease without a vaccine and without a treatment. That’s why the document we are releasing today is so important and that’s why I know our districts and our teachers are going to act in good faith to reopen our schools with these expectations,” Brown said.
Public Health Commissioner Dr. Steven Stack said the guidance and rules require some sacrifice but are needed.
“We know some of these things will be difficult to do in schools, and we tried to minimize these difficulties as much as possible when we developed the guidance,” Dr. Stack said. “But these are the things we need to do to keep students, staff and communities safe.”
Coleman announced that through Expanded Care, schools can take advantage of federal funding that covers Medicaid-eligible students for services including nursing, audiology, occupational therapy, speech therapy, physical therapy, interpreters, mobility and mental health.
“It is our duty to protect every child, but it is also our duty to protect every adult and every family member of the folks in those school buildings,” Coleman stated.
Coleman also highlighted the essential work teachers and bus drivers are called upon to perform during the global pandemic. She noted that in April, Fayette County school bus driver Eugenia Weathers, 56, died of COVID-19 and 16 other employees were sickened with the virus. In addition, in Grant County two school workers Garylin Stoney Stone, 71, and Jo Ann Banks, 56, also succumbed to the novel coronavirus.
“We are so grateful that Governor Beshear has put the health and safety of our bus drivers and students first,” said John Stovall, president of Teamsters 783 in Louisville. “Our folks are excited to get back to work, but we have to make sure were taking the necessary steps to prevent the spread of the virus.”
Brown says more guidance regarding the healthy at school plan will be released Thursday and early next week.