After Gov. Andy Beshear’s administration announced what it called new reporting requirements Monday for COVID-19 cases linked to schools – including a mandate that parents immediately report positive results for their children – local superintendents said that’s already happening in their districts.
“That’s primarily how we are finding out about cases,” Superintendent Gary Fields of the Bowling Green Independent School District said Tuesday.
Whether calls from parents come in late at night or on weekends, “they are communicating that with us,” Fields said. He noted the district also offers rapid testing in its schools through its partnership with Graves Gilbert Clinic, allowing the school to learn of positive results “immediately.”
Warren County Public Schools Superintendent Rob Clayton said parents are also alerting schools in his district of positive cases among their children.
At present, Clayton said, the Warren County district has no information to suggest that student-to-student spread of the virus is occurring. The number of positive virus cases among students who learn purely online and those who attend school in person is almost the same, Clayton said, contending that shows the district’s efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19 are working.
At least for the moment, Clayton said, “we don’t see any information to suggest that we should close our schools.”
As of Tuesday afternoon, a state map illustrating county-level virus incidence rates showed Warren County in the red, a development that Beshear said should spur school districts to “absolutely rethink in-person classes.” The incidence rate represents the average daily case total per 100,000 people, based on the previous seven days.
In response, Clayton said his district is continuing to unpack how that rate is calculated and whether Western Kentucky University’s sizable student population is a factor.
“The biggest challenge we have throughout this whole process is the communication coming to the school districts,” Clayton said, describing it as one of the biggest challenges he’s ever faced as a school leader.
Fields said the Bowling Green district is also basing its decision on conditions it sees on the ground. Fields said Tuesday there are four active student cases and five active staff cases in his district. Given that, he said it’s untenable to deprive students of in-person instruction.
“Our plan is to continue to have school,” Fields said.
Under the new reporting requirements under an emergency regulation Beshear issued Monday, a parent would have 24 hours to report their child’s positive case to their school.
“The school will have to define the process by which they would like that reporting to occur,” Kentucky Public Health Commissioner Dr. Steven Stack said.
Upon receipt of that information, Stack said, schools will “have to report Monday through Friday every day that school’s in session the number of new students, number of new faculty and staff (and) also the number of quarantined students and quarantined staff.”
Those metrics are for “school-related activities” only, Stack said. Those daily totals will ultimately be used to populate an online dashboard in hopes of offering more timely information to communities, Stack said.
“We hope that this dashboard will provide real-time, actionable information,” Stack said.
The changes are set to go into effect Sept. 28.
Also accompanying the new reporting requirements is updated guidance for schools on instruction. The guidance is in effect as long as the state’s positivity rate is less than 6 percent and the health care system has sufficient capacity to address the pandemic, a news release from the governor’s office said.
Under the guidance, a color-coded map showing incidence rates will provide districts with corresponding guidance. It will be updated every Thursday evening to guide schools for the following week, the release said.
Schools in green and yellow zones will follow the state’s Healthy at Schools guidance, while those in orange are encouraged to reevaluate their instruction models. Counties in red are advised to suspend in-person instruction for the following week, reserving their buildings for small groups of students while the rest study online.
“Let me be clear, that there is not going to be an overall recommendation coming from me or my office post-Sept. 28,” Beshear said Monday. “What’s going to be provided is the information to make a week-by-week decision in our various school districts and counties based on prevalence and what public health experts believe is the right course based on that prevalence.”
– Follow education reporter Aaron Mudd on Twitter @BGDN_edbeat or visit bgdailynews.com.