With six straight weeks of declining coronavirus cases in Kentucky and schools working toward full vaccination for their employees, Warren County Public Schools and the Bowling Green Independent School District plan to fully reopen for students next week.
As both districts gear up for the biggest expansion of in-person classes in nearly a year, Gov. Andy Beshear on Tuesday issued a new executive order recommending that public and private schools offer or expand “some form” of in-person instruction beginning Monday, or seven days after district employees have received their second dose of the coronavirus vaccine.
The order, Beshear said, recommends that all schools require “universal masking all the time, virtually no exceptions.” In addition, if schools cannot achieve 6 feet of social distancing due to space constraints, “you need to look at reducing density” of students, he said.
The order also said schools should evaluate their ventilation systems, continue to provide “meaningful, virtual options” for students and regularly review a virus incidence rate map to manage school activities and mitigation strategies.
Ultimately, however, reopening decisions will be made locally, Beshear said, given his order stipulates “recommendations,” not necessarily mandates.
Before Beshear’s announcement Tuesday, a WCPS administrator wasn’t optimistic about achieving 6 feet of social distancing between all students 100% of the time.
“It’s going to be very tough,” Jason Kupchella, the chief operations officer for WCPS, told the Daily News earlier Tuesday. “I’m not going to tell you that every single kid will be 6 feet apart from every other student. We’re going to do the absolute best we can.”
Mask use will continue to be required, and Kupchella said some of the district’s schools have adjusted their lunch periods or expanded dining into school gymnasiums to accommodate social distancing.
“There are some schools that have increased the lunch period. … Maybe they’ve only had three lunch periods on a typical day, but now they’re going to have six,” Kupchella said.
Lunch will be the only time during the school day “that students will have no masks and they will definitely be 6 feet apart at that time,” he said.
WCPS plans to offer in-person classes four days each week, with Fridays given over to distance learning to allow staff to plan and offer other support services to students. Students will return for classes under this model starting Monday.
BGISD plans to return to full in-person instruction Tuesday. The district’s website said it will continue to follow Kentucky’s Healthy At School guidance and will continue to track COVID-19 infections and exposure events. BGISD notes that “throughout the next few months, it may be necessary for classrooms or schools to move to virtual learning for brief periods of time due to the number of individuals in quarantine.”
Both local public school systems have already been working toward fully vaccinating their district personnel. WCPS, for example, recently closed school buildings for two days to help achieve that goal, moving to distance learning instead.
“I think we literally may have had 500-600 staff members in a couple of days’ span who were getting their second dose of the vaccine, and we just knew that that was going to be a huge drain on whether we would actually be able to keep schools open” if staff needed time to adjust to vaccination, Kupchella said.
Kentucky’s COVID-19 test positivity rate fell to 6.03% on Tuesday, Beshear announced, calling it the lowest positivity rate the state has reported since Nov. 4. He announced 1,497 new virus cases and 16 additional deaths – including a 72-year-old man in Warren County.
The Barren River District Health Department, which now reports on Tuesday and Fridays, said it has confirmed a total of 27,350 cases since the pandemic started, 24,614 of which have recovered. It has had 371 deaths reported from COVID-19 in its eight-county health district.
The breakdown of recovered, deaths and total cases is Barren County: 3,602, 71, 4,018; Butler County: 1,183, 23, 1,337; Edmonson County: 796, 17, 877; Hart County: 1,617, 33, 1,796; Logan County: 2,149, 49, 2,422; Metcalfe County: 810, 19, 911; Simpson County: 1,475, 28, 1,644; and Warren County: 12,982, 131, 14,345.
On Tuesday, the health department in Allen County reported four new coronavirus cases, bringing the pandemic total there to 1,781. There have been 22 virus-related deaths in the county.
– Follow education reporter Aaron Mudd on Twitter @NewsByAaron or visit bgdailynews.com.