Public schools in Kentucky were cleared to return to in-person classes this week, but some have stuck to virtual-only education because of staffing issues.

Ashland Blazer High School will be virtual only this week because 20 staffers are out, either quarantined or infected by the COVID-19 virus.

In Boyd County, 18 staffers are either quarantined or infected, and the entire district is virtual only for the week.

The issue is somewhat different in Greenup County, where a lack of enough bus drivers is preventing the district from returning to in-person classes.

Keeping enough teachers and support staff working is arguably more important during the COVID-19 pandemic because of social distancing requirements.

Before the threat of virus infection, one teacher could bring the students of a sick colleague into his or her classroom temporarily. That is not an option now.

“We can’t combine classes the way we could before the pandemic,” said Boyd Superintendent Bill Boblett. Teachers in previous years sometimes worked despite sniffles and aches, but that also is not possible now. “It’s dangerous to children,” he said.

The 20 staffers out at Blazer are about half teachers and half support staff, principal Jamie Campbell said. Those who feel well enough can teach from home, but bringing children to school still requires supervision in classrooms, and because several aides also are quarantined or sick, that leaves too few to keep an eye on students, he said.

The rest of Ashland’s schools remain open for in-person classes this week. The district is able to selectively close one building because the state temporarily eased its funding mechanism, which normally is based on the number of children physically at school.

That alternative didn’t work for Boyd this week but it would be an option if needed, Boblett said.

There are some teachers and in-school support staff absent in Greenup but mainly the district cannot muster enough bus drivers this week to cover its vast territory, district officials say.

The driver absentee count Tuesday was 11 of a total roster of 33, transportation director Tom Crump said.

The district has had difficulty — as have many in Kentucky — getting and keeping drivers, particularly permanent substitutes, he said.

Bus drivers are required to have commercial driver's licenses, and new hires without the licenses need two to three weeks of training before they are ready to haul students, he said.

Greenup is hiring drivers and has a notice on its Facebook page. Crump is hopeful he can attract some applicants because the job pays around $17 per hour.

Officials in the three districts are hopeful their absentee numbers will ease up so they can reopen buildings to students next week, but there are no guarantees. “It’s week by week, day by day, sometimes school by school. It’s a juggling act,” Boblett said.

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