State announces COVID-19 guidlines for opening schools

Interim Education Commissioner Kevin Brown speaks Wednesday on YouTube about the “Healthy at School” plan that set up guidelines for Kentucky schools to reopen safely during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Interim state Commissioner of Education Kevin Brown on Wednesday detailed guidelines for schools to reopen this fall while preventing the spread of COVID-19.

Called the “Healthy at Schools” plan, the guidelines call for students, faculty and school staff to:

• Practice social distancing of 6 feet when possible.

• Wear a mask, especially when social distancing is not possible, including on school buses.

• Screen students, teachers and staff.

• Provide contact tracing.

• Be diligent in providing sanitation and healthy environmental factors.

The plan is a collaboration of the Kentucky Department for Public Health and the Kentucky Department of Education to help schools safely reopen for the upcoming school year amid the ongoing COVID-19 global pandemic.

The official guidance was developed after weeks of discussions between Kentucky Department of Public Health and the Kentucky Department of Education, with input and feedback from superintendents and other school leaders across the state.

The plan was announced during Gov. Andy Beshear’s COVID-19 address through YouTube and other media. Brown and Beshear were joined by Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman, who also serves as the Secretary of the Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet.

Brown said the plan, a 24-page document titled “Safety Expectations and Best Practices Guidelines for Kentucky Schools (K-12),” included actions that schools must do to operate with a reduced risk of spreading COVID-19.

“There will be a 6-feet social distancing requirement in our classrooms,” he said. “… If districts are unable to have that 6 feet distancing ... 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 social distancing around your desk, your mask can come down while you’re seated. However … a good thing to remember in our schools and in our society in general is that when you move, you mask.”

Brown said that buses can be fully loaded if everyone is wearing a mask and either a temperature check is given before a student gets on the bus or a parent tells the district that the student does not have a temperature of more than 100.4 degrees.

Coleman said that she approved a memorandum earlier Wednesday for the 2020-21 school year that temporarily suspends statutes that set a 10-day limit for non-traditional instruction (NTI) days and required average daily attendance to be used when calculating state funding to school districts.

“This provides flexibility to school districts to receive funding in the event that schools need to operate a blended in-person and digital instruction in response to COVID-19,” Coleman said.

“Our school districts are developing models that work best for their unique communities, and this memorandum provides the flexibility they requested and they need.”

The plan also includes participation in the Expanded Care program, allowing schools to bill for services provided to Medicaid-eligible students who do not take part in the Individualized Education Plan. Those services include nursing, a variety of therapies and interpreters.

“This allows schools to provide services to 75% more children than before,” Coleman said. “This includes a 3-to-1 match by the federal government, so for every dollar that a school system puts in, the federal government kicks in another three.”

Marshall County Schools Superintendent Trent Lovett said he was “proud to see” the guidelines were more relaxed than before.

“Before, you had to have a mask and social distancing,” he said. “Now, it’s somewhat better for students. You need to have a mask on the bus and in passing, but in the classroom, when there is social distancing, the mask doesn’t have to be worn.

“There is still some guidance, but it is relaxed somewhat, which is good.”