• Bob Vlach, Woodford Sun Staff

Board votes to suspend in-person instruction next week

The Woodford County Board of Education voted to suspend in-person instruction next Monday and Tuesday, with students still scheduled to return after Thanksgiving break on Monday, Nov. 30. The unanimous decision came at Monday’s board meeting after a discussion about an up-tick in cases here and across Kentucky, and the importance of keeping district employees and students safe. A motion by Ambrose Wilson IV to close schools to in-person instruction failed 4 to 1 after he said virtual learning should begin immediately. That caused concern about parents being able to secure childcare for their kids if schools are closed without advance notification. A motion by Dani Bradley to wait until next week to close schools to in-person instruction then passed unanimously. “It’s undeniable that cases of COVID-19 are increasing in the commonwealth of Kentucky,” said Wilson. “We set a record last week … and I think it would be prudent to suspend in-person instruction until the Monday after Thanksgiving … to ensure those numbers (in our schools) stay low.” Wilson and Bradley said they had heard from numerous teachers and other employees who have concerns about continuing in-person classes during a pandemic when the level of community spread had climbed to the red status (over 25 daily cases were 100,000 people). Schools Superintendent Scott Hawkins said it’s difficult to continuously survey staff, but every elementary teacher he spoke with Monday “stopped me and said, ‘Please, keep us in school next week.’ And so, when you say, ‘Are we listening to our staff?’ We certainly try to.” Hawkins said looking at one number on one day does not give you the total picture when making a decision to stay in-person or move to virtual learning. After looking at case numbers in the schools and speaking with Public Health Director Cassie Prather, “we were very comfortable in continuing (in-person school) for this current week,” said Hawkins. On Monday, he said Woodford County was sitting at 28.7 cases per 100,000 people or an average of about 7.5 cases per day out of nearly 27,000 residents in the county. He said it’s important for people to understand the true number of average daily cases. He also noted there have been 20 in-person student cases and four teacher cases, “and we are in our seventh week of school.” Bradley said staffs have done an amazing job implementing safety measures in the schools. Hawkins then pointed out being in school helps reduce the spread in the community because 3,200 people (students and employees) are wearing masks, washing hands and distancing as much as possible. A shortage of bus drivers led to a decision last Saturday to continue virtual instruction for high school students and move middle school students to virtual learning this week, Hawkins said. It was also agreed that in-person instruction should continue for elementary school students this week, he said. In a related matter, board member Allison Richardson again spoke up for the high school students in the district’s Virtual Academy, who she said aren’t getting an equitable education. She also voiced concern about their health and safety if they must wait until after winter break to go back to school with their teachers and friends, which is the district’s current re-entry plan for families who chose virtual learning for the first semester of the school year. “They want to be back in our schools. They need to be back in our buildings with our teachers … learning and not falling behind,” Richardson said. Her motion to allow Virtual Academy students to return to in-person learning on Nov. 30 failed by a 3 to 2 vote. Other board members explained their opposition by pointing out that’s an administrative – not a board – decision. During public comments, a letter from Robin Espinoza criticized Hawkins for not allowing students in the Virtual Academy to return for in-person instruction before winter break if that’s the desire of their parents. Another from Piper White, who ran unsuccessfully for Sherri Springate’s seat on the board, urged the board to remove Hawkins from his duties for not allowing those students to return to school. “Logistically,” said Hawkins, “it would be impossible for us to be able to accommodate additional students starting on Nov. 30.” Also, with only three weeks left in the semester, it would be next to impossible for a little more than 200 students to transition from a virtual platform, he explained. He noted administrators will begin developing a plan this week to accommodate the influx of additional students in the second semester, which may result in a need for more staff.

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