Temperature checks before school, physical distancing in classrooms, contact tracing to limit outbreaks and a general requirement that students wear masks – all will be expectations for schools hoping to reopen in the fall during the coronavirus crisis.
On Wednesday, the Kentucky Department for Public Health released its highly anticipated Healthy at School guidance document.
During Gov. Andy Beshear’s coronavirus briefing in Frankfort, Interim Education Commissioner Kevin Brown offered a preview of the guidelines in the “flagship document,” which he described as a mix of expectations and “best practices” that the state would like to see districts adhere to.
“Most of the information in this reopening document, it is not new information. These are things we’ve talked about,” Brown said, alluding to weeks of webcasts and consultations with school district leaders across the state.
Physical distancing and asking families to send their children to school with masks or face coverings are major elements of the plan aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19. The document also touches on screening and quarantining of students during an outbreak, sanitation and contact tracing.
“There will be a 6 feet social distancing requirement in our classrooms,” Brown said, noting some exceptions. “If districts are unable to have that 6 feet of distancing in a classroom … students will be able to be seated closer together, but masks will be required.
“So if you’re seated closer than 6 feet, you’ve got to have a mask on during your instruction. If you’re in a classroom, and you have that 6 feet of social distancing around your desk, your mask can come down while you’re seated,” Brown said.
Students will be asked to wear masks in other situations, including while riding buses or when they’re between classes, he said.
“When you move, you mask,” Brown said, also suggesting that districts could provide extra masks for students who don’t already have one before boarding school buses that day.
While students and school staff will be expected to wear masks, there are some exceptions. Kindergarteners will not be expected to wear masks, and students who have heart conditions, asthma or other underlying conditions are also exempt.
To encourage widespread mask use, state education and public health officials have asked local community leaders to publicly model the practice for others.
On Wednesday during the news briefing, Brown cited the case of John Page, a Monroe County welding instructor who died of COVID-19 at 47 years old.
“Our welding instructors, our teachers, our students, (and) our staff deserve to work and learn in an environment with a reduced risk of a disease without a vaccine and without a treatment,” Brown said in a follow-up news release. “That’s why the document we are releasing today is so important and that’s why I know our districts and our teachers are going to act in good faith to reopen our schools with these expectations.”
Asked by a reporter for her advice to parents who are unwilling to send their children to school while wearing a face mask, Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman replied: “I would very simply say that wearing a mask is much more comfortable than wearing a respirator.”
Schools will also be expected to assist local health departments with contact tracing in the event of an outbreak. That includes providing detailed bus manifests and classroom seating charts.
As school districts develop reopening plans that will comply with public health expectations, they’ll also be granted additional flexibility when it comes to counting attendance – a factor that is critical for determining school funding in Kentucky.
“We will temporarily suspend a statute that requires average daily attendance be utilized in calculating state funding to school districts for the 2020-21 school year,” Coleman said.
Coleman also said that she has taken action to suspend the 10-day limit on nontraditional instruction days, allowing the Kentucky Board of Education to grant districts unlimited NTI days for the coming year.
Additionally, through the Expanded Care program, schools can take advantage of federal funding that covers Medicaid-eligible students for services including nursing, audiology, occupational therapy, speech therapy, physical therapy, interpreters, mobility and mental health, according to a news release.
Coleman also asked for another round of federal funding for coronavirus relief, one that would include money to safely reopen schools in the fall. The current funding mechanism for schools is not up to the task, she said.
“The way schools have been funded in the past must evolve,” she said. “Our educators, students and their families have all adapted to these changing times. Our education funding must, too.”
– Follow education reporter Aaron Mudd on Twitter @BGDN_edbeat or visit bgdailynews.com.