Superintendents in the area made it clear this week: Their goal is in-person learning every day they can manage, but it won’t happen if they don’t have the staff to do so safely.

Staffing issues caused three districts — Boyd County, Fairview and Raceland-Worthington — to go without students in the building for the latter half of this week. All three districts are set to return to in-person learning Tuesday after the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.

Boyd and Raceland both chose to go virtual, which requires staff to still be in the building. Fairview decided to close completely and keep everyone home.

“We all know that in-person instruction is the key and that’s what we want,” said Boyd Superintendent Bill Boblett. “But there comes a point in time when it’s difficult to do, and well, not difficult, impossible.”

The district reached 71 staff absences with about 26 being COVID-positive or quarantined Tuesday, the day the district decided to go virtual until next Tuesday. A student absence rate of around 14% also played a role in the decision, according to Boblett.

Fairview and Raceland both noted staffing issues in Facebook posts announcing their decision to close down and go virtual, respectively. These districts also return to in-person Tuesday.

As of this week, Ashland, Carter, Greenup and Russell say they are holding on, but are experiencing shortages that if increased could lead to their districts needing to take a breather from in-person instruction.

Each district faces a somewhat different uphill battle with maintaining in-person instruction. Some districts are doing well with subs, whiel others are experiencing shortages.

Greenup County Superintendent Traysea Moresea said the district had a shortage of substitutes prior to the pandemic. Carter County Superintendent Paul Green said his district is also experiencing a shortage of subs.

Russell Superintendent Sean Horne and Ashland Superintendent Sean Howard both said their districts are doing fine on pulling in substitutes, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t days where they max out of their options there.

Boblett said Boyd does fine in that regard. Other than Boyd’s 10 full-time substitutes, the others’ availability isn’t a guarantee. Plus, any of the substitutes are not immune to COVID or any other illness or issue that may result in someone not being able to work a day.

All of the superintendents do share that everyone is stepping up and stepping in wherever they possibly can.

“It would not be uncommon to see a principal teaching a class or a school counselor, our own central office people would be available to cover classes,” said Moresea. “We are trying to do everything we can to make sure we can keep our doors open. We’re seeing progress academically, and we’re trying to keep going as long as possible.”

Across the area, superintendents share that instructional assistants with substitute or teaching certificates are stepping into the lead role. Teachers are instructing more than one class at a time and giving up planning periods to make sure a class is safely conducted.

Classroom instruction is not the only essential to a functioning school. Food service, janitorial services and transportation are all vital components to a successful school day.

Ashland decided to grant overtime to other custodians and food service who step up and add on a shift to cover for their fellow department members.

Central office employees, administrators can be found on supervision or bus duty, in the cafeteria and more. Though everyone who fills in the cafeteria has to have a food safe certification, said Moresea.

“Every job has its own specific requirements, so we would have to be really conscientious to make sure that we can cover and we can do so safely,” said Moresea. “And we will make the call if we have to, but we're just we're trying to keep everyone going.”

Boblett said Boyd had to combine routes to get kids to school. Due to the specific training required for transportation, too many drivers out can be a significant problem and a safety hazard. Moresea shared that could be a reason to utilize a virtual day because student safety is essential.

Green called it an “all hands on deck” situation to keep everything running.

Russell looks to keep each building and the district’s average attendance at 90% before COVID. Still, when it drops in that area or below, Horne says he begins to look into it. The district was at the 90% mark earlier in the week, but bounced back to around 93%. Horne looks at the numbers daily to make sure he is up to date and ready to make a decision on virtual school if need be.

“We are not at the point right now to where it’s not manageable,” said Horne. “We’re able to cover everything on a daily basis, but those numbers are moving greater.”

Ashland had approximately 18 staff who tested positive and 12 students as of Wednesday, according to Howard.

“One of the major concerns is, you know, being able to to maintain a facility that can effectively reach the students,” said Howard. “We don't have any plans to move toward NTI days, I mean, we are prepared to do that when the time comes, but we’re not; we’re not at that point yet.”

Carter had 39 COVID-positive students and 135 total in quarantine, said Green.

“It's just mitigation, monitoring and making sure that we can cover everything and as long as we can, we're going to continue to move forward,” said Green.

Greenup on Thursday had approximately 20 staff positive or quarantined and 161 positive or quarantined students according to the district’s COVID-19 dashboard on its webpage.

Moresea said Greenup is maintaining, and at this point it is manageable.

All of the superintendents said they continue to implement the guidelines sent to them from the Center for Disease Prevention, Kentucky Department of Education and local health departments. KDE release new guidelines this week, as schools across the state began to turn to NTI.

The districts work to get that information out as quickly as possible to not only their staff, but students, parents and the community. Ashland posted reminders that school buildings require masks, which includes sporting events.

In addition to new guidelines, superintendents have been watching and waiting as the legislature has met and many bills regarding education have been brought to the floor.

The legislature has been working through the process this week of passing a bill that will allow 10 additional NTI days and extend other emergency relief concerning schools and COVID, which expired in December. The bill reinstitute many provisions that were created during the previous special session that allowed schools to more easily operate in-person.

Overall, the goal is in-person as often and as consistent as possible, but superintendents know there will be points that is not feasible. Each district is monitoring and making the decision to continue or break and recuperate on a daily basis.

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