CORBIN — With the release of the 24-page document, “Safety Expectations and Best Practices Guidelines for Kentucky Schools (K-12),” announced by Gov. Andy Beshear on Wednesday, local school districts are beginning to narrow down practices for the upcoming school year.
In the long awaited document from Beshear, Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman and Kevin Brown, interim commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Education, numerous areas were outlined in great detail.
“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. Beshear. “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.”
During the June board of education meeting, Knox County Public School District members voted to amend the original calendar for next year and move the start date for students to August 24.
“We feel that the delayed opening will allow us additional time to monitor the impact of other districts opening in Kentucky and other states, as well as what result increased business and tourism openings have on positive COVID-19 cases,” said Frank Shelton, Director of Communications and Governance, Knox County Public Schools.
Corbin Independent School Superintendent Dave Cox told The Times-Tribune on Friday that they have a window of start dates they are still considering.
The board is reviewing these dates before the July board meeting where they will make an official decision.
The Knox County School District has established a workgroup that will be using public health's Healthy at School recommendations and best practices, their own survey data, and recommendations from the Knox County Health Department. Several leaders have related the planning process to being like a playbook used in sports, said Shelton.
“We agree with that, as there are many "if this, then that" cases that, if they occur, we must be prepared to take immediate action,” he said. “We are actively procuring masks, whole room sanitation units, additional disinfectants, thermometers, hand sanitizer, and other items. Each school will be receiving decals and visuals to assist with knowing what is required and to assist with social distancing.”
According to Shelton the district is also working to establish a one-stop information source on their website, much like they did in the spring, for the latest COVID-19 news relating to reopening school and other benefits or programs that families need to be aware of.
“We also plan on additional mailings to each household, telephone messages, social media, and printed newsletters as we get closer to August, detailing Knox County's exact plans,” said Shelton who noted the situation is fluid and things continue to change often. “Regardless of how the fall semester looks, we can guarantee families that the safety of students and staff is the top priority before anything else. There are a lot of teachers that can't wait to show students their love for them and share the love of learning. No hugging, but lots of smiling behind masks and visible tears of joy.”
Before Corbin schools start back, Cox said a series of “boot camps” will be offered for students to try to fill in the gaps that were lost due to the pandemic. Officials haven’t determined yet if these will either be in person or virtual.
“Depending on what is going on at the time, potentially we could bring some larger groups in with masks and do some catchup,” said Cox. “We have kindergarteners coming in... you can’t teach a kid to read on the computer — you need some face-to-face stuff. Our board is very interested in doing that."
Cox said the district is working hard trying to get every classroom equipped for virtual learning the best they can, knowing virtual is going to be a part of the new year in some format.
But for Cox, there is simply nothing that can replace a classroom teacher.
“We want to get as much of that (in person learning) as we can and still be safe,” said Cox. “But we’re going to go back to school with students and teachers together as quickly as possible and do that the best we can, meeting the guidelines.”
“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," Gov. Beshear said.
These safety expectations were written with input from the Education Continuation Task Force as well as the Governor’s 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.
On Wednesday, Commissioner Brown stressed the importance of wearing masks to keep schools open and students, teachers and staff members safe.
Dr. Steven Stack said all of 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.”
Lt. Gov. Coleman said the state was working to ensure waivers will be granted to schools needing to use Non-Traditional Instruction (NTI) days.
According to a KDE article by Jacob Perkins, the NTI Program began as a pilot in 2011, then as a statewide program in the 2014-2015 school year. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, districts that were enrolled in the program were allowed up to 10 NTI days per year. These days were used when in-person classes were canceled due to inclement weather or widespread illness, like the flu.
She also 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,” said Lt. Gov. Coleman. “The Governor, the Commissioner and I have come together to help provide the flexibility that is needed by schools to meet these unique circumstances.”
Cox said the teachers in his district have embraced the process and called them troopers.
“We’re coming up with some very consistent methods and procedures for all of our teachers,” added Cox. “We’re writing a teacher list of non negotiable’s for every teacher in our building that every teacher will use.”
Cox said there are so many things to consider from cleaning bathrooms to water fountains or bottled water to the scheduling of siblings.
“We’re working very hard and we’re trying to keep parents involved,” Cox added.