LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Gov. Andy Beshear has recommended that Kentucky school districts not offer classroom instruction until at least Sept. 28 as the state grapples with an uptick in COVID-19 cases.
Beshear notified school superintendents of his recommendation before he announced it Monday. Schools can begin the 2020-21 school year virtually through nontraditional instruction.
"To sends tens of thousands of our kids back into in-person classes when we don't have control of this virus isn't the right thing to do for our kids," he said. "It's not the right thing to do for their faculty, and it's not the right thing to recommend as governor.
"There are some that I know that'll say this is a decision being made by the governor. It's a decision being made by the virus."
He had originally suggested school systems delay in-person learning until at least Aug. 17 and cited four primary reasons for his updated recommendation Monday: the escalation of COVID-19 cases in recent weeks, the increase in youths testing positive for the novel coronavirus, the experiences of other states that have reopened schools and been forced to shut them down, and the fact that families traveled to places facing COVID-19 outbreaks on vacation.
"We continue to see families go to the beach, whether it's in Myrtle Beach or in the Destin area," Beshear said. "Every time that happens, you an bring it back."
The push to reopen schools comes as two statewide education organizations issued conflicting opinions on the best approach to resume classroom instruction for the upcoming school year.
The Kentucky Education Association issued a statement Friday urging schools to delay reopening plans until statewide and local COVID-19 testing positivity rates fall below 4 percent based on a seven-day rolling average.
Kentucky's COVID-19 positivity rate was 5.71% on Monday, when 275 new cases were announced.
"Districts must also consider other factors unique to their own communities, such as the infection rate among school-aged children and whether the Department of Public Health supports their reopening plan," KEA said in its statement.
"Doing anything else is simply irresponsible. Even when those benchmarks are met, school districts that plan to reopen to in-person instruction must implement appropriate, comprehensive mitigation procedures, must continue to offer virtual instruction to families that request it, must accommodate staff members who are at high risk or who live with a person at high risk, and must be ready to return entirely to virtual instruction if the state or county metrics require it."
The Kentucky Association of School Superintendents, however, believes such decisions should be left to local school leaders and boards of education.
KASS said in a statement released Sunday that school districts have based their 2020-21 reopening plans on guidance issued by KDE and the Kentucky Department for Public Health.
"It is for these reasons that KASS fully supports the local decisions of superintendents and their board teams to make the best decisions for school re-entry in their local communities," KASS said in its statement.
"To this end, school districts across Kentucky are exploring options for in-person, remote, and virtual learning for families to consider. At the same time, we are working to implement guidelines to ensure the safety and well-being of all district employees."
Beshear's recommendation to delay the start of classroom learning until at least Sept. 28 is six weeks from his original call for school districts to begin the school year on Aug. 17.
"It's also six weeks from what I hope is the peak of this virus," he said. "... We're trying really hard, and we've got good steps that we've taken. Masks are working, but we do not have control over this virus."
Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman said teachers deserve to works in schools that are "healthy" and "safe."
"The responsible thing to do is to respect our school employees, our faculty and the families that they go home to every night," she said.
Many schools have planned to reopen with a mix of in-person and virtual learning options, and a growing number of districts have chosen to start the 2020-21 school year with nontraditional instruction. Schools throughout Kentucky closed on Beshear's recommendation in mid-March as the COVID-19 outbreak began.
JCPS is among those beginning the school year remotely, implementing its "NTI 2.0" learning platform on Aug. 25 for at least the first six weeks of the school year.
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