LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Students will be expected to wear masks or face coverings at times when they return to school for the start of the 2020-21 school year, education and health officials told a group of Kentucky superintendents Monday.
School leaders throughout Kentucky have begun planning for the resumption of in-person instruction after COVID-19 prompted Gov. Andy Beshear to recommend closing schools in mid-March to limit its spread.
Beshear will present public health guidance on reopening schools during a news conference Wednesday, said Kevin Brown, interim education commissioner.
One aspect of that plan will be expecting students to wear masks inside school buildings at times, particularly if they cannot maintain 6 feet of social distancing in classrooms or while moving within buildings, said Brown and Dr. Connie White, deputy commissioner of the Kentucky Department for Public Health.
"As difficult as all of these things are, it doesn't change the parameters of this virus, and we have to work around the parameters of this virus," White said during Monday's meeting of the Kentucky Department of Education's Superintendent Advisory Council. "It won't work around us."
"If we can't get the optimal spacing, then we need to mask the students and staff," she said.
School leaders like Jefferson County Public Schools Superintendent Marty Pollio have expected masks to be critical pieces of school reopening plans. JCPS estimates nearly $12.3 million will be needed to provide disposable masks once classes resume Aug. 12, according to board materials for the Jefferson County Board of Education's meeting Tuesday.
Pollio expects JCPS to purchase personal protective equipment through its $30.4 million allocation from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, which was included in the $2.2 trillion federal stimulus bill in response to COVID-19.
Brown said school districts should develop masking policies for students, though not necessarily including them in any dress code or disciplinary policies. White noted that some students would have health conditions that prevent them from wearing face coverings.
School leaders and teachers should also set examples inside their buildings to encourage masking, White said, adding that wearing a mask should be seen as "the closest thing to an immunization right now."
Some superintendents have reported rarely seeing residents in their communities wearing masks while shopping, Brown said. Still, White said she's "very hopeful that parents will see this as critically important for their children."
"You're going to have to look someone in the eye when there is an outbreak and say we did the everything we could to get kids to wear masks because we understood it was our best public health tool," she said.
Todd Allen, interim general counsel for KDE, urged school leaders to talk to their attorneys as they develop masking policies for their districts.
"Obviously we don't want to create a situation where it's just being ignored when students are not wearing masks or following appropriate social distancing," Allen said. "At the same time, we certainly wouldn't physically force a mask on any student, so unfortunately I can't tell you exactly what your liability consideration would be in that situation."
Masking is the latest in developing public health guidelines for schools as they make plans to resume regular instruction.
On Monday, KDE released guidance directing school districts to begin finding ways to serve meals in various settings to spread students throughout buildings.
Some suggestions include offering "grab and go" meals that students can eat in classrooms or gymnasiums, staggering times to limit high-volume traffic, and assigning seats during meals to help with contact tracing, something school officials will need to assist with during COVID-19 outbreaks in their buidlings.
The state previously told district leaders to prepare for short, medium and long-term closures if schools close amid COVID-19 outbreaks.
Copyright 2020 WDRB Media. All rights reserved.