Interim Commissioner Kevin C. Brown’s March 8 letter regarding COVID-19

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(NOTE: This letter was sent to Kentucky school superintendents March 8.)

Dear Kentucky Superintendent:

As the situation around the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) evolves and more cases are discovered across the state, I want you to know that the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) continues to work closely with the Kentucky Department for Public Health (DPH) to provide accurate information so we can strengthen our preparedness and response efforts to our schools and districts. The most up-to-date information on COVID-19 in Kentucky is being maintained on the DPH’s website.

This evening, Governor Andy Beshear, joined by DPH officials, within the Cabinet for Health and Family Services (CHFS), announced three additional cases of COVID-19 in Kentucky, bringing the total cases to four — two in Harrison County and one case each in Jefferson and Fayette counties. The governor indicated all four individuals are in isolation.

I know there continues to be anxiety among our public school families – students, educators and staff members alike – and I want to reiterate what the governor and DPH officials have already expressed: this is not a time to panic, as Kentuckians’ risk of getting the virus is relatively low. I also want to reassure you that everyone at the KDE and within other agencies of state government are ready and willing to assist you and your district as this situation evolves.

As you may already know, Harrison County Schools made the decision to close this week (March 9-13) to limit further exposure within their community. Until more is known from the state’s current epidemiological investigations, the governor advised that closing schools and public gatherings is not recommended. However, he said, as with the case of Harrison County, individual districts can make their own decisions.

Furthermore, the KDE recommends that any decision to close schools in response to COVID-19 (as with any other public health concern) be based on guidance and input from public health professionals at your local health department. These professionals can provide valuable input on whether school closure is recommended to help address public health concerns.

If you have not already done so, we encourage you to contact your local health department to construct a plan for timely communication and guidance regarding COVID-19 in your community. A strong partnership with local public health professionals will ensure timely and accurate information regarding any public health concerns.

Information that may be helpful in emergency management planning or operations include:

  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s webpage, which includes guidance on the virus and resources for K-12 schools
  • The Cabinet for Health and Family Services’ COVID-19 webpage, which includes information from the CDC and will be updated as information becomes available
  • A KDE webpage on COVID-19 that includes information on the virus and links to the sample flu plan and talking points for school nurses from the National Association of School Nurses
  • The COVID-19 state hotline: (800) 722-5725
  • Upcoming Governor’s Press Conferences: the next scheduled press conference is at 8:45 a.m. ET tomorrow (Monday, March 9)

Also tomorrow, Monday, March 9, at 3:30 p.m. ET, the KDE will host its regularly scheduled
Superintendent’s Webcast, which will be dedicated to COVID-19 issues. Dr. Connie White, deputy commissioner for clinical affairs at the DPH, will join us to share state health department-related updates. Join us for the webcast here: March Superintendent Webcast.

In addition, on Thursday, March 12 at 10:30 a.m. ET, the DPH asked local health departments to host their community partners — including school districts — at their site for a “Local Health Department and Community Partners COVID-19 Webinar.” The webinar will focus on county-level community pandemic flu planning. If you have questions or would like to attend, please contact your local health department as this event will not be live-streamed.

As you refine your emergency management plans, please be aware of options related to KDE’s Non-Traditional Instruction (NTI) Program. Eighty-three districts were already approved for NTI this school year. We are now looking at ways to be as accommodating as possible to other districts that may be interested in utilizing this valuable program for the remainder of 2019-2020 year, as well as look into possible waivers for those districts that may have already used the 10 days allowed by the regulation.

In terms of school feeding programs, the department is requesting a waiver from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to allow meal services during school closures to minimize potential exposure to COVID-19. These meals are available at no cost to low-income children, and are not required to be served in a group setting, to ensure kids receive nutritious meals while schools are temporarily closed. The KDE continues to work with the USDA to seek clarification on feeding sites and schools that use the NTI Program.

As a reminder, Tuesday, March 10 is the initial ACT state administration date. If a school/district is in session on Tuesday, they are required to administer the ACT on that day. For any school/district not in session, the ACT administration make-up date is March 24, 2020. Conversations are currently underway with ACT to determine additional administration dates, should they be needed.

We each play a crucial role in our communities and can help bring solid public health information to our fellow Kentuckians. If you are approached by members of the public about COVID-19, remember to stay calm. While the Commonwealth is now dealing with additional cases, our state and local agencies are prepared.

In the upcoming days, we will continue to rely on guidance from the DPH and pass along any pertinent information we receive from them.

Any questions about COVID-19 may be directed to the department via Kay Kennedy by email at kay.kennedy2@education.ky.gov. You also may contact the Office of Finance and Operations’ Division of District Support via phone at (502) 564-5279.

As always, feel free to contact me directly at any time. Thank you for all you do in continued support of Kentucky’s students.

Sincerely,

Kevin C. Brown

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