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Students to return to classes in October

Clark County students should return to their classrooms at the end of October unless the spread of the coronavirus worsens.

That is the intention of the Board of Education as expressed Monday in a 4-0 vote after another two-hour discussion of the issue.

The vote clarified what had been the school district’s decision Aug. 3, which was to have students return to classes at the end of a nine-week period of distance learning that will end Oct. 29, or sooner, if possible. The timeline will be considered every time the school board meets, including Oct. 12 and 19.

In the meantime, teachers will continue to bring students into the schools who need or want individual or small-group instruction.

Superintendent Paul Christy said that number of students has been increasing. Last week, there were 620 students who returned to schools for a couple of hours at a time.

Board Member Gordon Parido wants that number to continue to rise.

“We’re seeing more and more of the community that do want to come back, and we have got to find a way to be able to make this happen,” he said.

Christy said he intends to have student meals available at schools beginning Oct. 12 rather than have them delivered by buses.

One issue on which board members and the superintendent differed was whether all the students whose parents want them to come back to class can do so at once, or the schools must follow an “A-B hybrid” model.

Under that model, students would alternate between in-person and distance learning. On Mondays and Tuesdays, half of the students would come to class while the other half learned from home. On Thursdays and Fridays, the first group would do classes virtually while the other group came to school.

“We said all along we were coming back to a hybrid, and that has not changed,” Christy said.

The reason, he said, is that if more than 50 percent of students return, they can’t be kept six feet apart, as public health rules recommend.

Board members, however, said they didn’t like the hybrid model.

“If there is a way we can get everybody back in, that’s what I would like to do,” Christy said.

Board Member Scott Hisle asked the superintendent if it would be helpful if the board were to approve a motion that would provide the administration “cover” regarding the six-feet rule. Christy said it would.

The board then approved the state’s guidelines, which recommend that if “physical space in the school does not allow for spacing students’ desks 6 feet apart, space desks as far away as possible.”

Clark County Public Health Director Becky Kissick said the next day the six-foot distancing recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention should be considered a minimum for students exposed for a cumulative total of more than 15 minutes, even if they are wearing masks.

“That’s always going to be my recommendation,” she said.

The state Department of Public Health and Department of Education updated their guidelines Tuesday. The risk levels are color-coded green, yellow, orange and red. When a county reaches the red or critical level, schools must suspend in-person learning and return to virtual instruction until the county returns to a lower level.

Clark County is at the yellow level, in which in-person learning is allowed with “heightened mitigation factors.”

On Monday, Clark County’s incident rate for COVID-19 was 7.5 percent per 100,000 population, one of the lowest in the Bluegrass region. Also that day, the county had a positivity testing rate of .48 percent. The state’s rate was 4.41.

There was also a discussion about social distancing for teachers. The six-foot rule for them, board members agreed, is non-negotiable.

Christy mentioned that on Monday, the Health Department had reported that a 29-year-old Clark County woman had died because of the coronavirus. He has many teachers who are that age or younger, he noted.

He mentioned there were 25 people in the Clark County schools currently under quarantine because of the virus, including employees and people with whom they have been in close contact.

At the beginning of the meeting, the board heard from members of the public on the question of students returning to school.

Erin Lucas, a mother of junior-high and high-school daughters, said virtual learning isn’t working well.

“Every teacher I’ve talked to wants to go back to in-person,” she said. “There are so many grandparents right now who help with online learning because the parents have to go to work. I’ve not met a grandparent who doesn’t want to go back.”

Brylan Sutherland, also a mom with two daughters, one at the intermediate school and the other in junior high, said other school districts have returned to classes in-person.

“It can be done. It can be done in other counties across our state,” she said.

Sutherland said she refuses to be “held hostage by fears.”

John Wilson of the Kentucky Health Information Exchange, pointed out, however, that some of those counties that have returned to school are seeing cases rise.

“Montgomery County is now in the red … There is a danger spot, yet they’re still going back to school,” he said. “Bourbon County has gone back to school, and they have increased quite a bit.”

In his daily media briefing Monday, Gov. Andy Beshear expressed a sense of “urgency” about the “alarming trends” in COVID cases. He said that sense the traditional start of school, Kentuckians have become “more casual” in their concerns about the virus and about following the rules and guidelines to prevent its spread.

“Last week we had the largest uptick for cases in the state that we’ve had in the entire time. That’s a little unnerving,” Wilson said.

He said he has known people who have recovered easily from COVID and some who have been in the hospital for weeks and some who had no co-morbidities, but were sick entirely because of COVID.

“I think we’re playing Russian roulette with our kids,” he said.

About Randy Patrick

Randy Patrick is a reporter for Bluegrass Newsmedia, which includes The Jessamine Journal. He may be reached at 859-759-0015 or by email at randy.patrick@bluegrassnewsmedia.com.

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