Superintendents Advisory Council Virtual Meeting, Aug. 17, 2020

  • While it has been difficult for DPH to provide specific county-wide data, districts have begun to feel the pressure from their local communities to open their school buildings.
  • Prior to the meeting, KDE released two new COVID-19 guidance documents, one on small group settings and the other on tracking participation in Infinite Campus

By Jacob Perkins

During the Aug. 17 virtual meeting of the Superintendents Advisory Council (SAC), Dr. Steven Stack, commissioner of the Kentucky Department for Public Health, discussed issues with COVID-19 reporting.

Many districts throughout the Commonwealth have asked why they cannot get county-level reporting of the virus as they have developed reopening plans.

Stack explained during his presentation that DPH has experienced a “huge uphill battle” with getting the total number of COVID-19 tests performed at labs in the state on a consistent basis.

“In the context of communicable diseases, typically public health only follows up on people who have the disease, not also people who were tested,” said Stack. “… We have not ever had a situation like we do now with COVID-19 where we have required and tried to get the total number of all people tested.”

In addition, Stack, using nursing homes as an example, said many of the labs administering tests were not previously testing for communicable diseases. Therefore, they were not required to report numbers of tests or results to DPH.

“We’re about to see the federal government shipping out thousands of point-of-care test machines to nursing homes,” he said. “That means that the nursing home functionally becomes a laboratory. If they don’t tell us the positive results, we don’t get them.”

While it has been difficult for DPH to provide specific county-wide data, districts have begun to feel the pressure of their local communities to open their school buildings.

On Aug. 10, Gov. Andy Beshear made a recommendation that all schools delay in-person instruction until at least Sept. 28. Most districts have taken heed of this recommendation and will begin the school year virtually, utilizing the non-traditional instruction program. Other districts have decided to continue with their reopening plans and start school with in-person instruction.

According to Dr. Connie White, deputy commissioner of DPH, the total number of positive COVID-19 cases in Kentucky the week that the flagship Healthy at School guidance was released was 1,482. While the reporting is still incomplete, White said the Commonwealth has seen at least 3,948 positive cases during the week of Aug. 10-16.

“With these numbers, we feel it’s not the most wise time to start another set of school openings,” said White. “The hope will be that this will plateau and start to go down as we get closer to Sept. 28.”

When schools begin to reopen their buildings statewide, Stack said districts will have one day to notify their community when a positive case occurs. The day following the positive test, DPH will publish a school case report to the public. These reports also are done for nursing homes and behavioral health hospitals, Stack said.

“The schools will be given the opportunity to get their messaging to their school community and inform their entire school community that they have active disease and frame that in the light of the steps they are taking to address those concerns,” Stack said.

Superintendent Henry Webb of Kenton County asked why colleges and universities can begin classes, yet it is recommended that K-12 schools do not.

Stack said that the expectations are different “because those are all adults.” He added that neither circumstance of students returning is desirable, but the comparison is not “apples to apples.”

Boyle County Superintendent Mike LaFavers asked that with the governor’s recommendation to wait to return to in-school classes until Sept. 28, does DPH expect a drop-off in positive cases in the fall.

“Where we are in the fall has nothing to do with the seasons of the year or the temperature outside or the humidity outside,” said Stack. “It has everything to do with will things like masking and social-distancing and hand hygiene be enough to limit the spread of the disease.”

New COVID-19 Reopening Guidance
Prior to the meeting, KDE released two new COVID-19 guidance documents, one on small group settings and the other on participation tracking in Infinite Campus.

The “COVID-19 Considerations for Reopening Schools: Welcoming Students for Orientation and Targeted Services” guidance details appropriate measures districts should consider when bringing small groups of students into the building for short orientation periods or to provide targeted services.

The document presents universal expectations, models for efficient and safe orientations and considerations for targeted services and special populations.

KDE Associate Commissioner Kelly Foster explained to the council that if districts decide to bring in small groups of students, it can be no more than 15% of the student building capacity and no more than 10 people – including the teacher – will be allowed in a room at one time.

Foster said that pre-planning will be key when determining in-person activities and schools should prioritize virtual experiences whenever possible.

The second document, “COVID-19 Considerations for Reopening Schools: 2020-2021 Participation Tracking in Infinite Campus,” provides guidance on how to track participation for different types of courses according to the guidelines in the “Daily Participation and Non-Traditional Instruction” guidance document.

At its July 10 meeting, the Kentucky Board of Education approved an amendment to 702 KAR 7:125, which gives school districts the ability to provide and receive funding for a variety of instructional delivery models to meet the needs of their students and communities during the 2020-2021 school year in light of continued COVID-19 risks and necessary prevention measures.

The amendment temporarily suspends the collection of student attendance data for funding purposes. In its place, it established a process for collecting student participation data and requires the reporting and publication of district student participation rates to KDE and the Legislative Research Commission.

The SAC will meet again on Aug. 31.

Previous coverage of the Superintendents’ Advisory Council

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