Graphic reading: KDE News, Kentucky Department of Education

By Jacob Perkins

Gov. Andy Beshear unveiled new masking recommendations for the state’s K-12 schools in response to the highly contagious COVID-19 delta variant during a July 26 media briefing.

“Without mitigation efforts, we expect the delta variant will spread through unvaccinated classrooms and throughout buildings resulting in large, frequent quarantines of students and staff,” Beshear said.

The governor’s recommendations include:

  • School districts should require all unvaccinated students and unvaccinated adults to wear a mask when in classrooms and other indoor school settings;
  • School districts should require all students under 12 years of age to wear a mask when in classrooms and other indoor school settings; and
  • School districts wishing to optimize safety and minimize the risk of educational and athletic disruption should require all students and all adults to wear a mask while in the classroom and other indoor school settings.

Though these are not mandates, Beshear said he expects that school districts will follow the recommendations.

“If we truly want as many in-person classroom days (as possible), these are steps that school districts will need to take,” Beshear said.

Speaking directly to district and school leaders, staff members, and students and families, Education Commissioner Jason E. Glass said he understands the extraordinary pressure they have faced to ensure continued learning throughout the pandemic.

“As we look to this fall, we are going to need your courage and leadership once again to put in place the necessary precautions based on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and our Kentucky Department for Public Health (DPH) to keep in person learning going, and to keep your students, staff and community safe,” he said.

Teachers and staff members have been on the front lines battling the virus from the beginning. Now, Glass is calling on their professionalism and dedication once again to continue many of the same mitigation strategies that previously were implemented in schools.

“You have already proven and shown what many thought was impossible in keeping schools open and in keeping them safe,” he said. “We are going to need that same effort again going into this fall’s reopening of schools.”

Kentucky will need students and families to remain committed to following health and safety precautions, including mask-wearing, something that many believed could not be possible in schools.

“I am so proud of our students for proving all of those critics wrong and showing your commitment to being in school and to keeping your classmates, school staff and community safe,” Glass said. “… I’m counting on you to once again prove the doubters wrong and to show just what our young people in Kentucky are capable of.”

Joining Glass at the briefing was Kentucky Board of Education Chair Lu Young, who praised local boards of education for maintaining a “laser-like focus” on the health and safety of children in their districts.

“Our priority is to return to in-person school, but it is also to stay in school,” Young said. “As we think about this new, highly transmissible delta variant and the potential impact it has on unvaccinated children and youth, it becomes essential that we work together to make every effort to ensure that while in school, our students are as safe from the transmission that they can possibly be.”

Though positive COVID-19 cases continue to rise throughout the state due to the delta variant and the administration of vaccines has begun to stall, decisions on how schools will operate this fall presently remain local decisions, with the exception of masking on school buses, which is required under a CDC order.

Young does, however, advise all schools in Kentucky to follow the latest CDC recommendations and guidance from DPH for COVID-19 prevention in schools.

The guidance includes the following elements:

  • Prioritize in-person learning;
  • Encourage and promote vaccination;
  • Use layered prevention strategies;
  • Masks should be worn by all people age 2 and older who are not vaccinated when physical distancing cannot be maintained. Presently this would include everyone between the ages of 2 and 12;
  • Maintain at least 3 feet of physical distance between students in indoor spaces;
  • Continue screening, testing, handwashing, respiratory etiquette, staying at home when sick and getting tested, contact tracing in combination with quarantine and isolation, and cleaning and disinfection efforts;
  • Students and staff staying at home when they have signs of infectious illness and referral to their health care provider for testing and care; and
  • Local monitoring of community transmission, vaccination coverage, screening testing and outbreak occurrence to guide decisions on prevention strategies.

“I am confident that you have the will and the determination and the best interest of your students in mind as our schools, districts and communities return to a very successful, healthy and productive school year,” Young said.

K-12 COVID-19 Testing Program
Following Beshear’s recommendations, DPH Commissioner Dr. Steven Stack introduced the K-12 School COVID-19 Testing Program.

DPH is offering the program in partnership with the CDC and it is voluntary for Kentucky’s schools to assist in reopening safely for in-person instruction.

Testing will be limited to staff and students of Kentucky K-12 public and private schools and includes school district employees and staff, such as bus drivers, maintenance, office staff or as determined by the school administrator.

The program will begin Aug. 2 and operate the entire 2021-2022 academic year.

Superintendents and school administrators can learn more about the program on the state’s K-12 School COVID Testing Program webpage.