As students, staff and families prepare to return to face-to-face instruction for the upcoming 2020-21 school year, local principals and superintendents gear up to enforce state mandated COVID-19 regulations.

On June 24, Gov. Andy Beshear announced the unveiling of the “Healthy at School” Safety Expectations and Best Practices Guidelines for Kentucky Schools (K-12) which was issued by the Kentucky Department for Public Health in collaboration with the Kentucky Department of Education.

The document requires schools to enforce social distancing, the usage of masks and increased cleanliness practices. Practices that John Williamson, superintendent of Model Laboratory School, is hesitant about.

“This year is especially a challenge. So I’m a little bit cautious because we have a new challenge facing us with this public health crisis,” Williamson said.

Many of the requirements set forth by the Kentucky Department of Education err on the side of extreme caution, such as requiring students to sit 6 feet apart at all times and the donning of masks the entire day if social distancing is not feasible in a given classroom.

“I understand the need for them, but I also don’t believe they’re very realistic. ... It’s easy for an organization or (the) CDC to put out what they think is best practice, but unless they’ve been an educator and tried to put this in schools…” Williamson said. “We will do our very best to do it. But the level of procedural complexity to do all of that and make that happen is very challenging.”

So far, Williamson said Model plans to enforce the usage of masks and they are working on reconfiguring movement patterns throughout the school day. Staggering events like arrivals to school, lunch times and recess schedules are all suggested by the Healthy at School document.

However, with coronavirus numbers remaining steady or increasing nationwide, Williamson said he worries about the outlook of face-to-face learning for the future.

“...(We’re) assuring that our students have the opportunity to learn face-to-face - which we believe is the best way to learn - (but it’s) paired with the fear of potentially having to return to virtual instruction, which we know that’s not best for kids in their learning,” Williamson stated.

Another local school district, Berea Independent Schools, has begun to assess how it intends to implement new best practices.

According to a press release sent out by Diane Hatchett, superintendent of the district, the schools are looking at different instructional models for the upcoming school year, including those that are distance-learning, in-person and a hybrid of the two.

The press release also stated the district is moving to a “one-to-one model” which means each student will be provided with a Chromebook. Devices will be distributed at the beginning of the school year, and parents and students will have the opportunity to learn about usage of the device as well as operation of the online learning platforms. For families who have trouble with internet access, the district has purchased several “hotspots” and are in the process of equipping buses with wifi.

“We know that there are many challenges and continued uncertainty ahead of us, but we also know that our Berea Community family is resilient and resourceful,” the release said. “... We know that there is no substitute for in-class, face-to-face learning with a high quality teacher. So, we are committed to doing all in our power to provide the next best thing and create as many opportunities as possible for both in-school and out-of-school learning.”

In a statement released to the Register, Hatchett stated:

"We are excited about the coming year despite the challenged of COVID-19. We miss our students. We miss our families. We miss one another, whether teachers, administrators or support staff. BCS is a family. ... There will be some adjustments that need to be made, but all with the intention of health and safety. We care about our students, faculty, staff, administrators and community — safety will always be a priority as a result. Pirate are resilient, positive and always strive to be great with continuous improvement in our work, personalized learning for both students and adults, teamwork and an emphasis on a growth mindset I am confident we are going to have an amazing year. COVID will give us an opportunity in bold print that we do not want home school to be an option. I also talked about the fact that no one would replace an in-person teaching experience, but we also know that there are vulnerable members of our community and their needs have to be taken into account as well. We want to be the preferred choice for our parents as well as draw in parents who are currently home schooling. ...There is no better time than now to incorporate all of the above."

Berea Independent Schools has a possible start date of Aug. 26. Model Laboratory School is looking at a start date in early August, though nothing definitive is determined.

Attempts were made to contact Madison County School officials, but comment was not received by the press deadline.

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