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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Gov. Andy Beshear has recommended that public and private schools delay in-person instruction for the 2020-21 school year until at least the third week of August.

Beshear announced the recommendation Monday as part of the state's efforts to limit the spread of COVID-19, including limiting restaurant capacity to 25% and closing bars. Schools that follow the governor's recommendation will open by Aug. 17 at the earliest.

Beshear previously said school districts could be asked to delay the start of the 2020-21 school year or begin with distance learning given Kentucky’s recent COVID-19 escalation.

"My concern is that if schools start before this when we're seeing an escalation of the virus we'll see cases in schools, and if we see a lot of early cases in schools it will be harder to get all of our schools open for in-person classes," Beshear said.

"I believe everybody deserves a safe environment, and it's hard to argue we have a safe environment when our cases overall are escalating and our positivity rate is up again today," he said.

Beshear reported 552 new COVID-19 cases on Monday, putting Kentucky's total at 27,601 since the pandemic began. Twenty-one new cases were identified in children younger than 5, he said.

The state’s positivity rate stands at 5.58% based on a seven-day rolling average. The White House has said states should begin enforcing restrictions once that rate exceeds 5%.

Beshear, who met Sunday with Dr. Deborah Birx of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, said Friday the reopening schools to in-person instruction “would be a real challenge” during the uptick in COVID-19 cases.

"There is a way to get this virus under control so that schools can open safely in Kentucky, but it will take all Kentuckians to make that their top priority," Birx said after meeting with state officials Sunday. "... It is going to take all of us self-sacrificing to wear masks, to make sure it's not an issue no matter where we are and really work hard to protect people at home."

Kevin Brown, Kentucky’s interim education commissioner, was also involved in Sunday’s meeting with Birx.

"As leaders of Kentucky’s K-12 education system, it is incumbent upon us to continue seeking alternative ways to educate and feed our children and continue providing leadership in our communities to mitigate the spread of COVID via modeling the use of face coverings and adhering to the expectations from the Department for Public Health," he said in a statement Monday.

Brown recently asked school superintendents to consider delaying reopening their schools until after Aug. 15 or starting the school year with nontraditional instruction, said Toni Konz Tatman, interim communications director for the Kentucky Department of Education.

Most school districts in Kentucky will be unaffected by Beshear's recommendation because most have scheduled to begin the 2020-21 school year for late August or early September and some have planned to start the year with distance learning, she said.

Kentucky's two largest school districts, Jefferson County Public Schools and Fayette County Public Schools, will begin the 2020-21 school year remotely. School boards at others have recently voted to delay their reopening dates.

“We basically are just telling our districts to be cognizant of the fact that our numbers are going up and with the facts that we received from Dr. Birx yesterday with a large number of people traveling out of state, district to district, you can’t necessarily guarantee that what’s going on in one district is staying in that district,” Tatman told WDRB News.

Beshear had not requested to speak with Kentucky school superintendents Monday, she said. Before recommending closing school districts throughout the state in hopes of limiting the spread of COVID-19, Beshear held conference calls informing superintendents of his recommendations before announcing them publicly.

Tatman noted that school districts had been asked to plan for the possibility of starting the school year later than originally scheduled and using distance learning as an alternative instruction model as part of reopening guidance issued in May.

“This is why we recommended that the (Kentucky) Board of Education approve the administrative regulation for unlimited (nontraditional instruction) days for 2020-21,” Tatman said. “We knew this was going to be a possibility.”

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