The Pike County Schools Board of Education discussed reopening the district’s schools in the fall and how there are still obstacles for the district to overcome when planning for a potential reopening.
During the board meeting on June 11, Superintendent Reed Adkins said that he met with the state’s re-entry committee on June 8, but that the committee has not made any definitive decisions on reopening. He said the committee is composed of parents, teachers, principals, safety directors, instructional leaders and business owners, in order to involve different groups in making decisions on reopening.
“We did not make any definitive decisions, but we do know that we’ll get guidance as we go,” Adkins said. “As soon as we find things out, we won’t wait for board members to release the information. We’ll go ahead and inform the public as soon as possible. Right now, we truly do not know how the future’s gonna look, but we’re setting up a committee to make sure we do it the right way.”
Adkins said that Pike County faces unique challenges that make it difficult to plan on how to potentially reopen school in the fall. One of the main difficulties for the district to overcome, he said, is the issue with transporting students to school in school buses.
For social distancing to work in a school setting, students will need to be kept a minimum of six feet away from one another, and the CDC recommended that students be seated in every other seat while being transported on the school bus.
“We bus kids more than anybody east of the Mississippi and we know one of the biggest challenges will be bussing our kids, when you think about the number of miles we travel,” Adkins said.
Although the district is continuing to plan on how it can reopen in the fall, Adkins and members of the board asked the public to remain patient with them as they work to figure out a reopening plan.
“Obviously, a lot of the guidance that we follow will come from above us with the governor and commissioner,” Adkins said. “We’re certainly gonna have to follow the rules that they set forward, but for Pike County, it will look a little bit different.”
Dwayne Abshire, Dist. 3 board member, also commented on the reopening plan.
“I ask everyone to be patient with us,” Abshire said. “There’s a lot of decisions that need to be made by this board and school system on entry back into school and how it’s gonna be, and I guarantee that it’ll be unpleasant in some way or another with this pandemic and everything that’s going on. We will have the best interests of our kids at heart and go by the guidelines that have been given to us the best that we can.”
The Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) discussed new COVID-19 reopening guidance with the state’s superintendents on June 16. During the webcast, Dr. Connie White, deputy commissioner of the Kentucky Department for Public Health, stressed the importance of social distancing and face masks when schools reopen in the fall.
She also said it would be important for schools to maintain bus manifests and classroom and cafeteria seating charts to help with contact tracing if a student or teacher is diagnosed with COVID-19. Health departments have used contact tracing for decades to isolate people exposed to other diseases. Health workers ask the infected who they have been in frequent contact with and seek to quarantine those people.
White said if a community member is diagnosed with COVID-19, the local health department will contact area schools for any needed contact tracing. Schools themselves will not be responsible for identifying cases but do need to keep careful documentation of student movement and contacts.
If an athlete tests positive for COVID-19, whether the whole team must isolate for 14 days will depend on whether the sport involves close contact, White said.
David Cook, KDE’s director of innovation and coordinator of its Non-Traditional Instruction (NTI) Program, encouraged teachers to design instruction to be “digitally agnostic” for maximum flexibility, meaning that it can be deliverable by in-person instruction or through any level of technological devices.
He said students should take home district-issued devices and textbooks every night, just in case, and schoolwork submission and student participation, as well as food service, will vary on how they will be handled, depending on if long-term closures will be required for various districts.
During the webcast, Interim Education Commissioner Kevin Brown said that Gov. Andy Beshear was asked about school closings on June 15, and Beshear said that increased contact tracing will help future school closures to be more precise — targeting individual schools or even classes that have been exposed to COVID-19, rather than shutting down entire districts.
Associate Commissioner Robin Kinney, of KDE’s Office of Finance and Operations, said that plans for school attendance and funding remain in flux, and those goals should be flexible. They may even change during the school year as models for instruction quickly shift between in-person, remote learning or some hybrid, she said.
Verifying attendance and participation remains a major issue, she said, and the way students are counted may need to be modified, since funding is based on attendance.
She said transportation is likely to remain a big expense because schools may need to run the same bus routes, even if only half of the students physically attend classes.
Brown said KDE is gathering and considering feedback on attendance, transportation and related costs.
“I want you all to understand that we intend to give you some decision points going forward in the next few days and weeks,” Brown said during the webcast.
Surveys on needs resulting from COVID-19 went out during the week of June 15 to teachers, schools, districts and families. The data will be used in deciding the next steps toward reopening schools, and will be valuable for Kentucky’s incoming education commissioner. Brown said that more than 37,000 Kentucky families have taken the survey so far.
The Pike County Schools District is encouraging all parents to take its reopening survey. The survey can be accessed on the district’s website at, https://www.pike.kyschools.us.