Board approves dual re-entry plan giving parents a choice
Parents will have the option to send their children back to school for in-person instruction or keep them at home for virtual learning under a re-entry plan unanimously approved by the Woodford County Board of Education Tuesday. The decision was made after board members were assured by schools Superintendent Scott Hawkins that the district can move to all-virtual classes if the COVID-19 pandemic worsens here. Hawkins and other Central Office administrators responded to 118 questions from people in the community and others from board members during the virtual town hall meeting. With circumstances as they relate to the COVID-19 pandemic changing on an almost daily basis, the district’s planning has focused on the health, safety and wellness of students and staff as well as the academic needs of students, Hawkins said. He said a dual re-entry plan gives parents a choice about what best meets the needs of their children and family. Many of the questions asked Tuesday focused on health concerns, including a requirement that students wear masks when six feet of social distance cannot be maintained. They must also wear masks while moving in a building and while on buses, according to the district’s in-person plan. “We would like to be able to ensure six feet of social distancing at all times, but unfortunately schools were not designed in this fashion,” said Hawkins. “And so we are trying to maximize the available space to allow as much distancing as possible.” A majority of school employees surveyed on two occasions said they wanted to return to in-person instruction and they will be surveyed again, Director of Staff/Student Services Garet Wells explained while answering a question about the health risks they may face in schools. Also, the board was told employees with underlying health issues and/or other concerns can opt to support students in the virtual academy. Asked about personal protective equipment and sanitizing supplies, Wells and Hawkins said the district has already made multiple orders and will continue to do so. Having to rely on middle and high school students to clean their own desks before going to another class was a concern raised by board Vice Chair Dani Bradley, but Hawkins said, “I believe in our kids. And if we say, ‘This is really what we need you to do,’ I believe our kids will meet that challenge.” Bradley and other board members also had questions about employee health and safety. “I wonder how we’re asking our staff to weigh-in (on surveys about returning to in-person instruction) when they don’t know the number of exposures they’re going to have (when school reopens Aug. 26),” she said. The number of students in a class will not be known until parents make their choice about sending their children back to school or keeping them home, Hawkins said. While the superintendent agreed there are risks to returning to in-person instruction for students, teachers and staff, he said there are also significant risks – both academically and from a social and emotional standpoint – to going all-virtual. Board member Allison Richardson agreed with Hawkins that it’s important for children to be back in school because they need their teachers. She said it’s also important to do everything possible to ensure the safety of teachers. Students will eat lunch in the cafeteria, Hawkins explained in response to an earlier question, because its larger size allows for greater social distance opportunities. The district will work with the local health department on contact tracing protocols, Wells said. Anyone deemed as a close contact by a contract tracer will be required to self-isolate for 14 days, he added. A decision on closing school to in-person instruction could occur after an order by Gov. Andy Beshear or in consultation with the local health department if the number of cases here warranted such action, Hawkins said. Based on the rising number of cases here and elsewhere, board member Ambrose Wilson IV said parents have great concerns about whether to send their children back to school. Under the in-person plan, preschool and kindergarten students will not have to wear masks, and teachers will provide “mask breaks” throughout the day. A child’s temperature will be taken as he/she boards the bus or as they enter the building if they are driven to school. Also, frequent hand washing and sanitizing throughout the day are additional health and safety steps being taken for traditional in-person school. Elementary students will remain in their classroom for art and music, but physical education will be held in the gym or outside. Middle and high school students will change classes, with procedures in place to allow as much distancing as possible during class changes. Elementary students will have recess, but playground equipment will not be used. A virtual academy option was described as an option for parents who don’t feel comfortable sending their children back to school for in-person instruction. Students will have a primary online program: Odysseyware for elementary grades and Edgenuity for middle and high school students, with additional support from other online programs as needed. The virtual academy will require a daily time commitment comparable to in-school instructional time, with teachers assigned to students for lessons, guidance, mentoring and goal setting. Communication – daily for elementary and middle school students, and at least twice a week for high school students – will include virtual meetings, emails and phone calls, according to the district plan. Because students will need internet access in order to participate in virtual learning, the district will work with families without that service, according to the plan for a virtual academy.