LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Students in Bullitt County Public Schools will begin the 2020-21 school year with distance learning on Aug. 26 given the recent escalation of COVID-19 cases throughout Kentucky and concerns within the district about reopening during the pandemic.
The Bullitt County Board of Education voted Monday to start the upcoming school year with nontraditional instruction, according to Superintendent Jesse Bacon.
Bacon said in an email Friday to WDRB News that he was just as disappointed, if not more so, as anyone in the district's inability to offer in-person instruction to start the school year.
He reiterated his belief that BCPS could safely reopen based on his conversations with local health officials and the mitigation strategies in place.
"While we are concerned that we are in the middle of a surge in positive cases statewide and in our local community, this recommendation wasn't based solely on the COVID-19 data," he said in the email.
Identifying substitute teachers has been a challenge for the district, he said. If some staff members needed to quarantine due to COVID-19, the district's "ability to effectively implement the plans we have developed to mitigate the risks to transmission becomes severely compromised," he said.
"We have fantastic and dedicated substitutes in our district who do a great job," Bacon said. "But if we are going to execute our plan with confidence, we need more of them. Many of our substitute teachers are in the vulnerable population and understandably are nervous about committing to help in the in-person setting if we need them."
"With the obstacles we were staring at from a staffing standpoint, we felt it was essential to communicate a recommendation as soon as possible so families could plan accordingly," he said.
Anyone interested in working as a substitute teacher is encouraged to contact the district and fill out an application.
"We are in desperate need of them," Bacon said.
The district had planned to start the 2020-21 school year with an in-person option for families on Aug. 26. Those who chose the virtual option for their children, called the Bullitt Cloud Academy, must commit to a semester of remote learning, according to Bacon's letter.
Bacon wrote in a letter to BCPS families Tuesday that the district hoped to begin welcoming students back in phases, likely starting with elementary students on Sept. 14 and culminating with all grade levels by Oct. 5.
"These plans will be dependent upon COVID-19 positivity rates," he wrote.
During nontraditional instruction, teachers will be at schools during nontraditional instruction "and readily available virtually to help students," Bacon's letter said. All students will receive Chromebooks to take home during distance learning, he said.
Students and teachers will be asked to participate in class meetings, small group projects and individual coaching and mentoring. Classroom meetings will not only give teachers and students opportunities for direct instruction and discussions, but also provide opportunities for social and emotional interactions, Bacon wrote.
The Bullitt County YMCA has committed to expanding its childcare services for families as the district begins the 2020-21 school year with nontraditional instruction, according to Bacon. He expects to announce additional details of that plan next week.
Gov. Andy Beshear asked school districts on Monday to delay reopening dates until at least the third week of August as COVID-19 cases climbed throughout the state, and interim Education Commissioner Kevin Brown had previously suggested that school systems prepare to start the 2020-21 school year with nontraditional instruction if needed.
BCPS joins other school districts, including Jefferson County Public Schools, that have chosen to start the 2020-21 school year remotely amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Schools throughout Kentucky were forced to quickly transition to distance learning in March based on Beshear's recommendation as COVID-19 first hit the state.
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