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Here's How Some Kentucky School Districts are Responding to Governor's Reopening Recommendation

Kentucky school districts are going back to the drawing board as they prepare to reopen under the coronavirus pandemic.

Gov. Andy Beshear has recommended that school districts not resume traditional in-person classroom instruction until September 28, and instead begin the school year remotely. 

Warren County Schools Superintendent Rob Clayton issued a statement on Tuesday calling the governor's recommendation a surprise.

"The negative impact on our most vulnerable students along with the harships it will create for our working families and the industries they serve are insurmountable," wrote Clayton.

Clayton spoke with Interim Education Commissioner Kevin Brown on Wednesday, but the district hasn’t released any additional updates. The Warren County school system says opening day for students remains August 24, but how students will be instructed remains unknown.

The Bowling Green Independent School District appears to be poised to buck the governor's recommendation.  The BGISD has scheduled a special board of education meeting for Friday at 3:00 p.m.  According to an email from the district, the only agenda item is a roll-call vote to affirm Superintendent Gary Fields' recommendation to open the 2020-2021 school year on Aug. 24 with the option to attend classes in-person through a hybrid schedule or virtually through an online academny, as previously approved by the Board on July 29, 2020.

Toni Tatman, chief communications officer for the Kentucky Department of Education, Brown feels Beshear's recommendation to postpone in-person classes is appropriate, given the high rate of COVID-19 in Kentucky.

“There have been a number of outbreaks that have occurred in states that have attempted reopening schools, and we still have problems with the number of Kentucky families going on vacation in COVID-19 hotspots and returning to the state," Tatman told WKU Public Radio.

According to the KDE, districts defying Gov. Beshear’s recommendation would likely see ramifications.  Beshear could issue an executive order requiring schools to close, public health officials could shut down schools, or the Kentucky Board of Education could pass an emergency order requiring the district to close.

Owensboro Public Schools announced on Tuesday the district will keep August 24 as the opening day of the school year, but all learning will take place from home through fall break.  Public Information Officer Jared Revlett says the district felt it was important to get students back to learning even if it had to be online.

“They’ve been out of school since mid-March and we wanted to give them something to continue that educational growth and prevent the brain drain that occurs with extended periods of time off from school," Revlett said.

Oct. 12 would be the earliest that in-person instruction would start for Owensboro city schools. Revlett says the school system has set a September 18 deadline to inform families of the district’s plans beyond fall break. 

The district is providing all K-12 students with Chromebooks for distance learning.  Based on a recent survey, about seven percent of students in Owensboro city schools have no internet access at home.  OPS has purchased hot spots for those homes, which should give wi-fi to all 5,200 students in the district.

Owensboro Schools says it has not made any decisions yet on fall sports and extracurricular activities.

Glasgow Independent Schools will continue with its plan to reopen on August 25 and only offer classes virtually.  The Barren County Board of Education voted unanimously Thursday evening to open Aug. 24 with both in-person and online instruction.

Elizabethtown Independent Schools will reopen August 25 with online instruction.  Before the governor made his recommendation, the district had already planned to have distance learning for the first three weeks of the school year.  Remote learning will be extended through September 28.  All students will pick up district-issued chromebooks next week. 

Elizabethtown city government has also established wireless hubs at some local parks.  American Legion Park, Freeman Lake Park, the Elizabethtown Nature Park, and the Pritchard Community Center will provide free Internet access from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. once the school year begins. 

The Hardin County Board of Education voted 4-1 Wednesday evening to proceed August 24 with in-person and online instruction, defying the governor's order to postpone traditional classroom learning.  John Wright, Director of Public Relations for Hardin County schools, says the board’s four-to-one decision reflected what most families wanted.

“It was overwhelming and that’s why they felt their constituency, the people who elect them and the people whom they represent, that’s what they preferred to happen," Wright told WKU Public Radio.

With the state’s positive coronavirus test rate above five percent and more children testing positive for COVID-19, Commissioner Brown has said he doesn’t want to open schools and have to shut down again if students and staff become ill, something other states are experiencing.

Lisa is a Scottsville native and WKU alum. She has worked in radio as a news reporter and anchor for 18 years. Prior to joining WKU Public Radio, she most recently worked at WHAS in Louisville and WLAC in Nashville. She has received numerous awards from the Associated Press, including Best Reporter in Kentucky. Many of her stories have been heard on NPR.
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