Special Superintendents' Webcast: July 14, 2020

By Jim Gaines

Guidance is now available from the Kentucky Music Educators Association (KMEA) on how to hold music classes and operate school bands amid the uncertainty over the COVID-19 pandemic, superintendents were told during the Kentucky Department of Education’s Special Superintendents’ Webcast on July 14.

The group’s executive director, John Stroube, said the first results have come in from a study of COVID-19 aerosol transmission in the performing arts, leading to several recommendations:

  • Keep a 6-foot-by-6-foot distance between players, with an extra 3 feet for trombones;
  • Wear masks until everyone is seated and no talking without a mask;
  • Sit facing the same direction;
  • Use HEPA filters on ventilation systems whenever possible;
  • Wear masks with a slit for an instrument mouthpiece whenever possible;
  • No sharing of band equipment; and
  • Rehearse outdoors when possible, perhaps under open-sided tents.

A document on marching bands from the National Federation of State High School Associations’ music committee recommends bell covers for brass instruments, such as a double layer of nylon pantyhose, Stroube said.

“Woodwinds are trickier. We’re still looking into that,” he said.

Guidance on elementary music education is in some of the current KMEA documents, but will need to be updated in light of the aerosol study, Stroube said.

Mask Mandate
Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman, secretary of the Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet, said she knows consistent mask-wearing is not easy, but Gov. Andy Beshear has said unequivocally that doing so in public is imperative.

“The bottom line is this: Our kids need good role models,” she said. Students will adopt the attitudes of the people they’re around, so educators should not just wear masks, but also be vocal on social media about their importance for fighting COVID-19, Coleman said.

“I would encourage you to take this message to your community. Be an example. Walk the walk,” she said.

If a student refuses to wear a mask or to wear it properly, the first option shouldn’t be punishment or requiring them to use distance learning, KDE Interim Commissioner of Education Kevin C. Brown said. It should first be dealt with like any other incidence of classroom noncompliance, he said.

Kelly Foster, KDE associate commissioner in the Office of Continuous Improvement and Support, said schools should keep extra masks on hand for students who lack them.

Children below 1st grade are not required to wear masks on school buses, but should be kept as distant as possible. While not required for those ages, masks certainly are allowed and encouraged even for very young children, said Dr. Connie White, Kentucky Department for Public Health (DPH) deputy commissioner.

“I personally would not let my granddaughter get on a bus without a mask on,” she said.

Needs-Sensing Survey Results
Nearly 60,000 people responded to the Family/Caregivers Needs-Sensing Survey on COVID-19 impacts, said Aaron Butler, KDE research analyst. The survey was online June 15 through June 24.

Results have been compiled and are available on an interactive dashboard from KDE and the Kentucky Center for Statistics.

Questions covered student access to technology, student challenges, needed accommodations, challenges for caregivers, and views of the upcoming school year, Butler said.

Clicking on dashboard icons in the survey results allows people to view the answers broken down a number of ways, including at individual district level, he said.

Vaccination Expectations
DPH officials are working on a document of expectations for parents this fall, White said. That will include up-to-date vaccination records.

“We aren’t planning any kind of delay in that,” she said.

Flu shots won’t be required but are “incredibly important,” DPH immunization branch manager Emily Messerli said. Students should see their healthcare providers in July or early August to make sure their vaccinations are up to date, she said.

Leave Allowances
Guidance on allowing additional leave for school personnel affected by COVID-19 should come out next week, said KDE Interim General Counsel Todd Allen.

The federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act allows 10 days of paid leave for those subject to quarantine. Employees may use that before using their sick days or other leave options, but KDE anticipates granting flexibility that would all local school boards to grant additional emergency leave due to COVID-19, he said.

New Education Commissioner
Newly hired Commissioner of Education Jason Glass will start work in Kentucky on Sept. 14, KDE Interim Director of Communications Toni Tatman said. The state Board of Education announced July 10 that Glass, currently the superintendent of Jeffco Public Schools in Colorado, was chosen for the job.

Brown will remain as interim commissioner until Glass begins.

Medicaid Reimbursement
Medicaid Expanded Care, formerly known as Free Care, can help reimburse districts for some health services, said Stephanie O’Connor of KDE’s Office of Finance and Operations. Since 2019, it has paid for some services that schools already may provide, but normally fall outside of an Individualized Education Plan, such as telehealth. Those can include nursing, audiology, speech, occupational therapy, physical therapy, mental/behavioral health, orientation and mobility, O’Connor said.

Details and eligibility information are available from Medicaid and KDE.

Superintendent Q&A
Clarifying earlier guidance, White said the state’s 50-person limit on gatherings applied to social events. The recommendation of keeping places at no more than 50% occupancy is for locations with a specific capacity.

It is a goal for 10% of school staff to be tested for COVID-19 each week, but it is not mandatory, Brown said. Tests should be covered by school district insurance.

White said superintendents should check in advance whether local hospitals or health departments have sufficient capacity to conduct the needed tests, and contract with them now.

She said districts should prepare two plans: one for reducing the risk of a COVID-19 outbreak and one for suppressing active infections.

“With our case numbers going up, there’s a great likelihood you will have one,” White said.

Schools can’t require liability waivers for students to attend this fall, since Kentucky children are constitutionally guaranteed a free public education, Allen said. But districts already have several forms of liability protection, he said.

At the federal level, some COVID-19 liability relief for businesses is being discussed and that may cover schools too, Brown said.

This fall, schools may be able to hold teacher/parent open houses if they carefully comply with mask and distancing guidelines, White said.

Those rules include gatherings of no more than 50 people, Messerli said.

Virtual meet-and-greets should be an option, Brown said.

Ultimately, it is local school boards who will determine how their schools reopen and conduct classes in the fall, Brown said.

Allen said some decisions should be made at the school level, though consistent with board policy. All such decisions should involve relevant stakeholders as early as possible, he said.