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Gov. Beshear Calls For Statewide School Closures To Prevent Spread Of Coronavirus

school desks classroom
Photo by J. Tyler Franklin

Gov. Andy Beshear recommended closing all schools across the state – public and private – to prevent the spread of COVID-19. He’s asking schools to close Monday, and stay closed for at least two weeks.

"This is a big but necessary step," Beshear said at a press conference Thursday evening.

Beshear joins the governors of Ohio and Maryland in calling for statewide school closures. He said while early research on COVID-19 suggests the virus is not particularly dangerous to children, young people can still catch and transmit the virus to more vulnerable people, like the elderly and those with underlying health conditions.

"This is another critical step to take on social distancing, and what we are doing to protect the most vulnerable," he said.

Interim Education Commissioner Kevin Brown said he "strongly supports" the governor's recommendation. He encouraged districts to create Non-Traditional Instruction (NTI) plans, which allow districts to get up to 10 closures counted as instructional days. NTI plans lay out how schools continue to engage students in learning during closures, through online materials or paper packets sent home.

Jefferson County Public Schools Closing For Three Weeks

Following the recommendation of Gov. Beshear, Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) superintendent Marty Pollio said JCPS schools are closing for three weeks starting Monday.

"We know how challenging it can be for families when they don’t have access to school and the services that they provide on top of instruction," Pollio said during a press conference Thursday. "But...the most important thing for us is ensuring safety and the health of students, and that’s why we want to make sure that we do the right thing."

Pollio said schools will be closed from Monday, Mar. 16, through Sunday Apr. 5 — essentially extending the normal one-week Spring Break into three weeks.  Pollio warned the closure could continue longer, however, if the virus continues to pose a threat.

"What we're really concerned about...is how long this could go," he said. "What we don't want to do is have students in school into late June and early July — not having graduations, not knowing when the end of school is."

He said districts need "help from lawmakers" to waive days lost due to the closure. Lawmakers are already considering such a proposal.

Students will get "supplemental educational materials" to take home Friday. Pollio said those will be available online and in paper form for students who don't have computer or web access.

Teachers and staff will operate on the "inclement weather schedule," normally used during snow days.

Nearly two-thirds of JCPS's 100,000 students rely on federally subsidized meals at school. Pollio said the district wants to make sure those students are still fed. JCPS is serving lunch for students from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. each weekday at 45 sites across the district, including 8 mobile sites. You can find the full list of sites here. Service will be walk-up or drive-through.

State and district officials acknowledge that finding childcare will be a challenge for families.

"Please be compassionate to the childcare needs of families right now," Louisville Metro Public Health director Sarah Moyer urged the public.

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said the city's community centers, libraries and the zoo are still open, "for the time being." He warned that could change.

Jess Clark is LPMs Education and Learning Reporter. Email Jess at jclark@lpm.org.