Special Superintendents' Webcast: July 7, 2020

  • Plans are forming to start fall sports, but precautions will be required.
  • School districts will be able to mix up food service, including letting students take several meals home during remote learning.

By Jim Gaines

As the usual opening practice dates for fall sports approach, Kentucky school districts are concerned about how to operate athletic programs due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Commissioner Julian Tackett of the Kentucky High School Athletic Association (KHSAA) answered some imminent questions Tuesday during the Kentucky Department of Education’s (KDE) weekly Special Superintendents’ Webcast.

“We are rolling toward having fall sports,” Tackett said. “Now what that looks like could change every day.”

The KHSAA board will discuss several potential eligibility rule changes on July 10, he said. Those could provide flexibility for sports participation as methods of counting enrollment and teaching change. Kentucky sports officials are watching other states that are restarting athletic programs and it is likely sports may shut down intermittently due to COVID-19 risks, Tackett said.

“Right now we are moving along with playing our regular six sports in the fall, period,” he said. But, he reiterated, that could change rapidly depending on the course of COVID-19 infections.

As long as a district verifies enrollment at a particular school, whether for in-person or virtual learning, that student is eligible for sports at that school, Tackett said.

But if parents choose distance learning for their children when schools are open for in-person attendance, districts still can declare those students ineligible to participate in athletics, Tackett said. Sports participation is a privilege, not a right, he noted, and local districts can impose stricter standards than the state requires.

School districts are asking lots of questions about rules for mask use in sports, Tackett said.

“We’ve been told that a statewide answer is not the best idea,” he said. Districts should check with their local health departments in making their individual decisions.

An emerging standard rule is that masks should be required for everyone except those actually in play at the time, Tackett said, though masks are allowable for athletes on the playing field.

Dr. Connie White, deputy commissioner of the Kentucky Department for Public Health (DPH) said that whenever possible athletes, coaches and fans should stick with the basic public health principles of mask use, social distancing and hand hygiene.

If a student athlete is sent home with a temperature (above 100.4 degrees), they have to be without a fever or other possible COVID-19 symptoms for 72 hours before returning to any type of school activity, including sports, White said.

If a student is in quarantine due to a positive COVID-19 test, any siblings living with them likewise would be quarantined and hence barred from school attendance or athletic practice for the quarantine period, she said.

When it comes to holding public sporting events, crowds still are limited to 50 people, Tackett said. The KHSAA is looking at a 50% capacity limit, incorporating 6 feet of social distancing, for such events, he said.

To help compensate for loss of attendance, school districts can each get two free cameras for livestreaming sporting events, Tackett said. Details are coming July 8. The cameras are worth $5,000 and would cost districts about $2,500 to set up, he said.

As for concession stands and ticket sales, KHSAA will issue guidance soon. But concession stands should expect to sell only prepackaged food, with nothing made on-site, Tackett said. Districts also should look at smartphone-based online ticketing instead of handling cash, he said.

Guidance for bands will also go out soon, said Toni Konz Tatman, KDE interim communications director. The Kentucky Music Educators Association’s (KMEA) recommendations have been approved by Gov. Andy Beshear and DPH, and a KMEA representative will be on the July 14 webcast to answer questions, Tatman said.

More reopening guidance
Guidance on reopening and operating schools is coming out regularly, with KDE releasing the latest planning information on July 6.

COVID-19 Considerations for Reopening Schools: Workplace Health and Safety” covers five major topics and includes plenty of links to previous guidance from multiple agencies, said Kay Kennedy of KDE’s Office of Finance and Operations. The June 24 Healthy at School initiative still is the “flagship document,” but districts also should consult with local health departments, Kennedy said. The Healthy at School guidance also has been released in Spanish.

Providing food
Superintendents questioned how, or whether, their districts would be expected to offer meals to students using non-traditional instruction (NTI) and how often, as well as whether some meals would need to be delivered.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced waivers on June 25 which allow flexibility in school meal programs, said KDE Associate Commissioner Robin Kinney. Many children rely on school meals, so districts are encouraged to keep providing them even to remote learners, she said.

The waivers allow “multiple meals over multiple days,” so a student could be allowed to pick up several meals at once and take them home for days of remote instruction, Kinney said. But districts should make sure their plans are practical long-term, she said. During the last school year, some districts delivered meals to student residences.

“That became a very difficult model to sustain,” Kinney said.

Masks and movement
Returning to a long-running debate on mask rules and COVID-19 transmission, superintendents questioned how to keep students and staff safe for multiple hours in the school building. Recommendations on ventilation are in the June 29 facilities guidance, Kennedy said.

But face masks remain the primary personal defense against the airborne droplets that can carry the virus, DPH officials said.

Students should be kept in one place as much as possible, White said.

Emily Messerli, immunization branch manager for DPH, said that if they can’t be kept at least 6 feet apart, or need to move around, they need to wear masks.

Children in kindergarten and below can’t be expected to remain in masks and there are no specific rules for keeping them apart, she said. But teachers should try to separate them at desks as much as possible, promote handwashing and practice “cohorting,” keeping the same groups together and not mixing with others.

White said taking students outdoors where they can separate would give them a break from mask-wearing. Cleaning standards for playground equipment are in the facilities guidance, but playgrounds generally should be cleaned between each group’s use, Kennedy said.

Leave policy
Many superintendents asked about leave related to the novel coronavirus. State officials said they would address those questions in detail during the July 14 Special Superintendents’ Webcast. Interim Commissioner of Education Kevin C. Brown said a written breakdown of the various leave policies and rules operating now would be issued soon.

Free Thermometers
Information on distribution of the 12,500 free, no-touch thermometers allocated to Kentucky school districts will be given to superintendents and district finance officers this week, Kinney said.

Superintendent Search
Kentucky Board of Education members met July 6-7 with the three finalists hoping to become the next commissioner of education: Jason Glass, Felicia Cumings Smith and Julian Vasquez Heilig. A final choice could be announced within the next few days.