Guidance on COVID policies is being released for schools as they begin in-person instruction again this fall. Masking is mostly a recommendation, but not a requirement. However, school leaders know that can change at any time.
Gov. Andy Beshear released his recommendations Thursday for schools as they return to school. The guidance strongly recommends school districts require all unvaccinated students and adults along with all children under 12 years of age to wear a mask in classroom or other indoor school settings.
The Governor also recommends "school districts wishing to optimize safety and minimize risk of educational and athletic disruption should require all students and all adults to wear a mask while in classrooms and other indoor school settings," a statement form the office said.
Schools have been releasing guidance this week and will continue to do so as the calendar flips to August and the first day of school.
Boyd County was the first to release guidance and policies despite being the last to start, with the first day scheduled for Aug. 26. The policies recommend masks for unvaccinated students and staff, but are not required, except when on schools buses or other district transportation.
The same policies are being enacted in Greenup County, according to Superintendent Traysea Moresea. She explained that masking on buses is a mandate from the Kentucky Department of Education.
Ashland released guidance days later. Others are preparing to fully announce policies in the days to follow.
“Though we will not otherwise require mask use, Ashland Independent School District recommends and encourages those who have not been vaccinated and children younger than 12 years of age to wear masks,” Ashland’s release states. “Further, for those who are eligible to be vaccinated, Ashland Independent School District recommends and encourages administration of the vaccine.”
Carter County released guidance inside of it’s continuity plan on it’s Facebook page and website. The district is adhering to the same policies other districts in the area are implementing by recommending masks, requiring masks on transportation and providing hand sanitizer along with cleaning and local testing and quarantine protocols.
Guidance for the schools comes from a few different places. The governor's office, Center for Disease Control, the Kentucky Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Education all give various recommendations. Through processes from the federal, state and local level guidance, recommendations and mandates are given to the school districts across the state.
Moresea explained the process for when Greenup County receives that guidance.
"The guidance comes through to us usually on a Monday or Tuesday, but then sometimes we might get it at 4:00 p.m. on a Friday, so it's a bit random as to when it comes in," said Moresea.
Moresea shared that she speaks with the other superintendents in the area as well as the local health department. The the principals of each building is brought in to the conversation.
"We really try to gauge it based on what kind of spread we're seeing in our district and our community," said Moresea.
Ashland Independent Schools receive guidance then "meet as a leadership team, our building principals and central office administrators discuss those things, ultimately it's left up to the local board of education to make the final decision."
The leadership team then makes a recommendation to the board of education on how to handle the guidance, then the board makes its decision.
Mandates are different from recommendations. The schools have, up until recent days, only received mandates.
"Everything that has been put in place has truly been a mandate for us and in order for us to receive school funding, to be able to not be in violation of law, we have to do whatever the mandate says," said Moresea.
The guidance is now recommendations rather than mandates.
"We have a little more leeway because the spread isn't what it was this time last year, however, it looks like it's on the rise again, so I truly wouldn't be surprised to see more additional guidance come out to us," said Traysea Moresea earlier in the week.
Raceland Superintendent Larry Coldiron had similar statements Friday.
“When we get mandates from the Kentucky Department of Education or the Governor’s office, those are things that will be done,” said Coldiron. “Those are things that we follow through on the best that we can.”
Recommendations leave what Coldiron called “local control.” Raceland leadership, everyone in the central office, school nurse and parents are all groups of people who give input to the board of education as it makes decisions regarding recommendations.
“We’re going to look at all different aspect when we make a decision, we’re not just going to make a decision off the cuff when it comes to what’s best for our students and our community,” said Coldiron. “We want to protect our students, but we also want to allow for parents to have input on those decisions.”
The current consensus, as of press time, is that schools are recommending and encouraging masks in the classroom for unvaccinated individuals, or those who are vaccinated and choose to also mask. Masks are a choice unless on a bus where they required by mandate.
Schools are required to have a quarantine room. The room, much like a typical “sick room,” is for symptomatic students to go while they wait for their parent or guardian to arrive and take them home, said Boblett. A requirement left over from last year. Boblett also said unvaccinated visitors will be asked to mask, and visitors will be limited as much as possible at Boyd County.
“We are really working to make our schools open and inviting and get back to business of educating kids, that’s our main goal,” said Moresea. “So we’re really hopeful that more people will get vaccinated and understand that this Delta Variant is serious because we really want to get our kids back to school and learning because that’s what our main job is.”
The Center for Disease Control is offering stricter guidance than policies being laid out in the area currently. The CDC recommends masking for all unvaccinated individuals and 3 feet distancing in the school setting.
“Students benefit from in-person learning, and safely returning to in-person instruction in the fall 2021 is a priority,” the center’s website states. “Many schools serve children under the age of 12 who are not eligible for vaccination at this time. Therefore, this guidance emphasizes implementing layered prevention strategies…to protect people who are not fully vaccinated, including students, teachers, staff, and other members of their households.”
As COVID cases in the area rise in number, superintendents know anything and everything is subject to change at any given moment.
“It looks like it’s on the rise again, so I truly would not be surprised to see more additional guidance come out to us,” said Moresea.
Moresea shared what’s currently the standard and what is being expected now, but the official policies haven’t been released just yet.
“Honestly, we’re waiting until the last possible time because we know once we put it out, we would really hate to have to put it out and change it again,” Moresea. “We don’t want to send mixed messages to everyone.”
Policies will be published, but how long they will last is up in the air depending on how the virus and the variants move and spread, along with local cases and vaccination rates.
The Kentucky Department of Education is recommending schools offer vaccination opportunities to help those eligible be able to receive the vaccine.
King’s Daughter’s Medical Center has partnered with three local school districts for Back-to-School vaccination clinics. The Pfizer vaccine will be eligible for students, 12 years of age and older, school staff and families. Parents must accompany students to sign consent.
Vaccine clinics with just the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine will be held at West Carter High School Aug. 4 from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. and East Carter High School Aug. 4 from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. Call (606) 475-5500 to schedule for either Carter County clinic.
Ashland Middle School will host a clinic Aug. 4 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Paul Blazer High School will host another Aug. 6 from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. A clinic will be held Aug. 7 from 8 am. to 3 p.m. in the annex behind the Boyd County Board of Education office on Bob McCullough Drive in Ashland.
Physicals and other vaccinations will be available at the clinics for Boyd and Ashland. Other vaccines being distributed are TDap, HPV, Hep A and Meningococcal. Call (606) 408-8920 to schedule for Boyd and (606) 408-8921 to schedule for Ashland.
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