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64 Kentucky School Districts Returned In-Person Monday

J. Tyler Franklin

On Monday, for the first time since March, students returned to the classroom in 64 of Kentucky's 171 school districts, according to a list complied by the Kentucky School Boards Association. The districts join another 53 that chose to go back to in-person classes before the Sept. 28 start-date recommended by Gov. Andy Beshear.

During his briefing Monday, Beshear said he's "confident" about schools moving to in-person classes, "if they follow the state guidance."

But he pointed out that several of the school districts that went back to in-person learning Monday are listed as red, or "critical," on the state's coronavirus dashboard. Those districts include Henderson, Mercer and Whitley county schools.

"When you hit red, you need to move to a virtual because it means your community has so much spread that it is going through your schools. You're putting teachers at risk, you're putting administrators at risk," he said.

The governor's recommendations are not binding, and he's said he won't give orders unless the state's coronavirus positivity rate rises dramatically. But he has recommended that schools only open to in-person learning when counties are listed as yellow or green on the state's coronavirus dashboard. Schools in counties listed orange should consider remote learning, and the governor has recommended that schools in red counties use remote learning only. The color code is based on the number of daily infections per 100,000 people.

The 64 districts that went back Monday returned under a variety of schedules. Many districts are sending students on a "hybrid model," alternating remote and in-person learning days to reduce the number of students in the building. Others are sending elementary students back for five days a week, while middle and high school students use a hybrid model. About 25 districts are sending students of all ages back five days a week. According to KSBA, all districts have provided a fully virtual option for parents who do not want to send their children in-person.

The state's largest school systems — Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) and Fayette County Public Schools (FCPS) — continue to hold classes virtually and have not yet set firm dates for an in-person return.

JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio has proposed bringing elementary students back first on October 22, followed by middle school one week later, and high school students a week after that. His recommendation is contingent on the public health situation in Jefferson County, and needs approval by the Jefferson County Board of Education. Pollio plans to present more details before a board vote Tuesday.

The Lexington-Herald Leader reports the Fayette County Board of Education could make a decision about a return to in-person learning at its Monday night meeting.

New K-12 COVID-19 Dashboard

Also on Monday, the state began using a new "K-12 COVID-19 Dashboard" showing the number of coronavirus cases in public and private schools, along with the number of students and staff quarantined at each school.

"Our parents and caregivers, they deserve to know this information," Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman said during Beshear's evening briefing Monday. "It is also is very important for our teachers and our school staff, to know how this COVID pandemic is affecting the children and other adults that they interact with every day."

Schools were required to start daily reporting Monday into the new dashboard system. Each weekday that school is in session, each school must report new coronavirus cases and how many quarantined students and staff they're aware of.

The dashboard shows that four new students tested positive statewide Friday, as well as nine new staff. Ninety-four students and 19 staff were newly quarantined. This data includes students and staff in both remote and in-person learning environments.

Many district superintendents have expressed concern about the accuracy of the new dashboard data, worrying that parents may report prematurely before their child's case is confirmed. Officials at the Department of Public Health (DPH) proposed the dashboard as a more timely reporting mechanism than the existing K-12 Public Health Report. Officials say that report, complied by the DPH, lags several days behind because of the lengthy DPH verification process.

As of Monday,that report showed 53 new cases among K-12 students, and 38 new cases among school staff — that includes public and private schools, and remote or in-person learning scenarios.

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