Mary Beth Sallee
Jobe Publishing, Inc.
On June 24, Governor Andy Beshear, along with Lt. Governor Jacqueline Coleman and Kevin Brown, Interim Commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE), announced the initial guidance for the reopening of Kentucky schools this fall.
The “Guidance on Safety Expectations and Best Practices for Kentucky Schools” is a 24-page document that covers the outlook for kindergarten through 12th-grade instruction in the commonwealth.
The guidance was written in a collaborative effort with the Education Continuation Task Force, as well as the Governor’s Office, KDE, Kentucky Department for Public Health (KDPH), the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, and the Cabinet of Education and Workforce Development.
Listed in the document are key safety expectations that must be implemented by schools, as determined by the KDPH.
Social distancing will require local school districts to address the space, workforce, and resources available at each school.
Increasing space between students to be six-foot or greater while in the classroom, maintaining a social distance of six-feet in common areas such as bathrooms, modifying classes and/or activities such as gym class, music, or art, and canceling field trips, assemblies, and other large group activities are just a few of the guidelines that will need to be followed by school districts. Additional social distancing guidelines will include limiting substitutes, evaluators, student teachers, and non-essential visitors on school property.
As for social distancing during bus transportation, this includes wearing a mask while riding the bus unless medically waivered, staggering seating if the bus is not at full capacity, and seating students with medical issues such as asthma and allergies at the front of the bus with the windows up.
Personal protective equipment (PPE) includes gloves, shields, and face coverings such as masks.
According to various health organizations such as the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the KDPH, face masks prohibit the spread of COVID-19 even when the infected person is not symptomatic. Therefore, face masks should be worn by all staff, as well as students who are enrolled in first grade and above, unless medically waivered. However, masks can be lowered during classroom time if all staff and students are seated six-feet or more apart and no one is walking around the classroom. Also, masks are not required when students are outside, given they are remaining six-feet or more away from others. Face masks and/or shields must also be worn by bus drivers unless wearing one interferes with the health and safety of the driver.
School Health plans should also include infection control policies for gloves worn for food services, school health procedures such as nebulizer treatments, tube feeding, and catheterization, and cleaning and sanitation.
Screening and School Exclusion
COVID-19 symptoms must be screened for prior to any student or staff member being allowed entry into the school. School entry begins at the point in which a student or staff member arrives on school property and also includes transportation by school buses.
Temperature check with a touchless thermometer will be required for all students and staff at point of entry on school property. In order for a student to be admitted onto the school bus, parents must attest each morning that the student’s temperature is not greater than 100.4 when boarding the bus. The student’s temperature will again be checked upon arriving at school. If a student is found on re-check to have a temperature of greater than 100.4, the driver and all students on that bus will be involved in contact tracing if the student is determined to have COVID-19.
Because of the great concern that infectious COVID-19 viral particles can land on surfaces during sneezing, coughing, talking, and even laughing, schools will be held to high sanitation and environmental standards.
Daily cleaning and disinfection of all school facilities, such as classrooms, restrooms, gyms, cafeterias, and locker rooms, will be required. High-touch surface areas, including water fountains, light switches, desks, computers, doorknobs, and handrails, must be disinfected frequently.
Schools must also consult with local health departments’ environmental health program to determine ventilation capacity in classrooms. When feasible, schools should utilize outdoor instructional time.
Schools must notify local health departments of any confirmed positive cases of COVID-19. In addition, schools must also be prepared to cooperate with the contact tracing investigation which will identify those at high risk of infection from being exposed to the positive COVID-19 student or staff member. Quickly initiating a 14-day quarantine of those at risk individuals is stated as being the best defense against further spread of the viral illness.
Also included in the guidance are “best practices” that are additional strategies that schools may choose to abide by to optimize the safety of all students and staff. These may include placing physical barriers such as Plexiglas at reception desks, serving meals to the classroom, and designating one-way hallway traffic.
“One of my top priorities, as we have fought against the coronavirus, is ensuring our children can safely return to school in the fall,” Beshear said. “Our top health experts and our educators have worked together to craft this guidance to take the necessary steps to protect our children and our dedicated staff as they return to school.”
“It is critical for everyone to do their part as good neighbors and good Americans to follow this guidance to protect our children, teachers, and school personnel, and stop coronavirus outbreaks that would spread the disease, cost us more Kentuckians, and further damage our economy,” Beshear added.
Commissioner Brown stated that it was imperative for masks to be worn in order for schools to remain open and for students and staff members to remain safe.
“I want to re-emphasize why it is important to have these expectations, why it is important that your child wears a mask at school,” Brown said. “It’s important because we need to protect teachers like John Page.”
Page was a welding instructor at Monroe County Area Technology Center who recently passed as a result of COVID-19. He was only 47-years-old.
“Our welding instructors, our teachers, our students, 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. “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.”
Lt. Governor Coleman explained that Kentucky was working to ensure that waivers will be granted to schools that are needing to use Non-Traditional Instruction (NTI) days.
Through Expanded Care, Coleman also announced that schools can take advantage of federal funding that covers Medicaid-eligible students for services including nursing, speech therapy, interpreters, and mental health.
“It is our duty to protect every child, but it is also our duty to protect every adult and every family member of the folks in those school buildings,” Coleman said. “The Governor, the Commissioner, and I have come together to help provide the flexibility that is needed by schools to meet these unique circumstances.”