On Wednesday, due to the rising number of positive COVID-19 cases in Kentucky, Governor Andy Beshear put new restrictions on the state’s education sector.
For kindergarten through twelfth grade these restrictions meant students would be going back to 100% virtual classes. For middle and high school students their virtual learning will continue until, at least, January.
For kindergarten through fifth grade the students may be able to return to in person classes come Dec. 7, but only if the county is no longer in the red zone.
For both Madison County Schools and Berea College, who were already virtual due to Madison County’s red zone rating, these restrictions weren’t going to bring much of a change.
“We were already virtual,” Berea Independent Superintendent Diane Hatchett, said. “So all it (Beshear’s restrictions) did was
of students coming into the school for one-on-one learning time. However, with the current rate of cases she said they did not want to “take any chances,” so they will cease to hold those meetings.
Erin Stewart, community education director for Madison County Schools, explained, like Berea Independent, Madison County was already virtual due to the number of cases in the county. So, the restrictions did not cause too much of a change the present schedule. However, the rule Beshear put in place for middle and high schools to not be able to meet back until January did change some things for them.
“We were anticipating, or hoping, to be able to return to school in our hybrid version during the month of December,” Stewart said. However, with Beshear’s new restrictions, this will not happen. Still, Madison County is hoping come January they will be able to utilize their hybrid system. Stewart explained the system has students going to school two days a week. They are split up into groups alphabetically. The top half of the alphabet would go to in person classes on Monday and Wednesday and the bottom half of the alphabet would go to school on Tuesday and Thursdays. Fridays would be all virtual learning. For their in person day the students would have three classes. Then on their virtual days they would have assignments to complete and tasks to check off. Fridays they would check in with every class.
“Teacher’s like being able to have kids face to face a couple days a week,” Stewart explained. With this hybrid system there wouldn’t be as many students in the building so it would be easier to space them out and social distance. Berea Independent, Hatchett explained, is also working on their own hybrid system for when schools go back into in person session.
“We want to have more than one option. We want to fit the needs of the particular child. Because it’s not one size fits all,” Hatchett said.
However, for now, when schools will be able to return to in person learning is still up in the air.
“It’s a shot in the dark for everybody,” Stewart said. Madison County Schools currently has seven active student cases, 12 active employee cases, 170 quarantined students and 47 quarantined employees. Though these times are uncharted waters for schools Hatchett has faith they will stay strong.
“It’s about innovation,” Hatchett said. “Everything that worked in the past may have worked then but this is now. This is Covid. But I think we’re up to the challenge.”
For Model Laboratory School, which had 82% of its students on site for in person education, these restrictions did cause them to need to change. So, they will be returning to their plans of virtual learning which were implemented
at the beginning of the school year in 2020.
“We don’t know what the future holds. But, we’re following his (Beshear’s) order. And we understand it. We want to be a part of helping the community to get back to a healthy state,” John Williamson, Superintendent of Model Laboratory Schools at Eastern Kentucky University, said. He explained Model, which currently has three students in quarantine but no positive tests, plans to have their kindergarten through fifth grade students back to in person learning by Dec. 7 and their middle and high school students back to in person learning in January, or whenever they are allowed back in the building.
“We are planning that if we cannot be back in school, because of the Governor’s orders, we will continue with how we are doing it now. But, if there is no Governor’s order, we plan to be back in face to face instruction,” Williamson said.
Madison County Schools plan to keep both kindergarten through fifth grade and middle through high school students in virtual learning through January.
“It just made the most sense, for us, to keep them all together,” Stewart said. Once the time is closer to the spring semester Stewart said they will look at the numbers and make a determination on whether or not they will try to start the transition back to in person learning. Berea Independent is also taking a more cautious stand on returning to schools. Hatchett saying they will be utilizing virtual learning “until further notice.”
“We have to put the health and safety of our families, students, teachers, everybody, first,” Hatchett said. “So, we’re doing our part… We don’t want anybody to ever say that we didn’t try everything possibly to stop the spread in our community.”
While students are on this extended break from in person learning many have been wondering what this means for meals. In Madison County they will continue to provide boxes of three meals for seven days every Friday at all schools. Berea Independent is teamed up with Berea Kids Eat, as well as local vendors such as Native Bagel, Subway and Hittz Barbecue, to keep their students fed.
One thing is true for all of the schools in Madison County. They all want to see their students back in the schools healthy and happy.
“Mayne, if everyone does what we need to do we can actually resume some of the things that we’re looking forward too, hoping for, next semester,” Hatchett said.