- New guidelines will allow some in-person classes even when counties have high COVID-19 infection rates.
- Vaccine distribution has started, and Kentucky educators should begin receiving shots by early February.
By Jim Gaines
Commissioner of Education Jason E. Glass asked Kentucky superintendents for feedback on proposals for reopening schools to in-person classes on Jan. 4.
During the Special Superintendents Webcast on Dec. 15, Glass said Gov. Andy Beshear will issue an executive order soon modifying some standards for holding in-person classes. Glass asked for superintendents’ comments on five proposals Beshear outlined during his regular news conference on Dec. 14:
- A recommendation that schools not reopen for in-person classes until Jan. 11. Glass said that as families are likely to gather over the holidays, schools should wait out the COVID-19 incubation period before reconvening.
- Changes to the Kentucky Department for Public Health’s (DPH) color-coded matrix on holding classes when a county is in the orange or red zone. Holding in-person classes while in the red zone means schools should be “more aggressive” in hybrid learning, finding ways to have fewer students in a classroom at the same time.
- Providing quality virtual learning for all students. The governor is concerned by reports of some students not having access to specialized classes such as Advanced Placement and is considering a requirement to keep that from hurting students’ GPA or class standing, Glass said.
- Making the expectations in the Healthy at School guidance requirements.
- Using U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) criteria on remote work. The governor has heard from some older school employees and those with serious medical conditions who feel “economically coerced” into working in person, Glass said. The FDA criteria would allow those employees to request accommodations until they are offered the vaccine.
Schools also must continue daily reporting of COVID-19 cases and quarantine on the DPH dashboard to give parents real-time information.
If districts have carefully observed all previous guidance from DPH and the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE), the executive order should not be a big change, Glass said.
In response to a major surge in positive COVID-19 test rates, hospital occupancy and deaths, Beshear suspended in-person classes in public and private schools by executive order from Nov. 23 until Dec. 7 for grades K-5, and for grades 6-12 until Jan. 4.
The Pfizer vaccine against COVID-19 has begun arriving at Kentucky hospitals. Healthcare workers are getting the first doses, and more will soon go to people residing or working in nursing homes. But Beshear cautioned Kentuckians to keep following pandemic safety guidelines until everyone can be vaccinated.
“Let’s make sure we don’t surrender between now and the end,” he said Dec. 14.
Educators may begin receiving shots in early February, but that could happen sooner depending on the availability of vaccines, Beshear said.
On Dec. 15 KDE released guidance preparing school districts for COVID-19 vaccine distribution.
Dr. Connie White, DPH deputy commissioner, assured superintendents that the vaccine is safe and has been fully tested. White said she is comfortable with taking it herself.
Side effects are rare, usually gone within two days, and are similar to those from flu shots, White said. More serious reactions are extremely rare and have been limited to people who previously had anaphylactic reactions to other injections, she said.
“People with allergies absolutely can take this vaccine,” White said.
Information on vaccine safety and testing is available on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention COVID-19 website, she said.
The vaccine will be offered at no cost, White said. Even those who already have had COVID-19 should take the vaccine, since antibodies to the disease tend to fade after about three months, she said.
The vaccine has been approved for use by people ages 16 and up, White said.
“We won’t see children younger than that approved for some time, until there has been more testing,” she said.
Vaccines also will be offered to private schools, White said.
Glass said KDE has no authority to make taking the shots mandatory, and he hasn’t heard any move from the governor’s office to require it. That may be a decision for local school districts.
Federal guidance on previous vaccines say any requirement must have exemptions for religious beliefs and people with disabilities, said KDE General Counsel Todd Allen. School districts should consult their board counsel on whether vaccination can be a requirement for employment, he said.
“Obviously, at the very least, we want to strongly encourage employees to take the vaccine,” Allen said.
In order to receive doses of the vaccine, school districts must create and submit rosters in Excel, with separate columns for the district name, school name, full employee name and employee age. All words should be spelled out and ages should be given as numerals, said Kelly Foster, KDE associate commissioner in the Office of Continuous Improvement and Support.
Those employees not assigned to a school should be categorized as “other district staff.” Part-time or contract employees may be identified with a school or as other district staff.
Employees who travel to several schools should be listed on only one roster, Foster said.
All of a district’s rosters should be combined into one Excel worksheet, saved as an .xlsx file. They must be completed by Dec. 30 and emailed to COVIDSchoolVaccine@ky.gov.
All district employees will be eligible for vaccination. Contractors who don’t have direct contact with students are not eligible. Only those on the roster will be eligible for vaccination during the educator distribution period due to the limited availability of the vaccine.
DPH may ask districts to prioritize which staff get vaccinated first. Even following vaccination, Healthy at School guidance should be followed.
The rosters are essential for knowing how many vaccine doses to allocate to each district, and to track who’s getting it, White said.
Officials want to make sure no school system is left out, but no one in a district will get this initial distribution of vaccine unless they are on the official roster, she said.
“The roster equals us ordering those doses,” White said.
All the required information should be sent in one electronic file, Foster said. Districts can email her with any questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.