Graphic reading: Special Kentucky Board of Education Virtual Meeting, Aug. 12, 2021

The Kentucky Board of Education (KBE) approved an emergency regulation on Aug. 12 to require all individuals inside public school facilities to wear a face covering. The move came at an emergency meeting in response to the highly contagious COVID-19 delta variant.

“It is not the intent of this regulation to have students in masks any longer than is absolutely necessary,” said Kentucky Commissioner of Education Jason E. Glass.

Per state law in Kentucky, emergency regulations are for a period of 270 days, but the KBE indicated that they would call a special meeting and withdraw or amend the regulation based upon the changes in guidance from state and national public health officials.

“While mask wearing alone is not a singularly effective strategy, Kentucky schools have already proven last spring that a layered mitigation approach led to returning our students to in-person learning, and kept them there,” said KBE Chair Lu S. Young.

In an interview after the meeting, Glass added, “We need to take the steps necessary to get this virus behind us, which includes the COVID-19 mitigation measures that we have proven effective in Kentucky’s schools. Masking is part of that effort.”

According to the KBE regulation, everyone inside a public school facility must wear a face covering over their nose and mouth while students are present in the facility. 

Children under the age of 2, and any person with a disability or physical or mental impairment that prevents them from safely wearing a face covering, are exempt from the regulation. There also are some additional groups and circumstances exempt from the mask requirement under the regulation.

To support the need for the emergency regulation, Robin Kinney, associate commissioner in KDE’s Office of Finance and Operations, cited evidence showing the alarming rise in COVID-19 diagnoses and hospitalization among children.

On Aug. 9, the Kentucky COVID report indicated 269 new cases were reported in a single day for those age 18 and younger, representing 20.1% of the total new cases on that single day. Similar counts were reported in the days following.

Children under 12 are not yet eligible to be vaccinated.

“This is a very busy time as we kick off the new school year in Kentucky,” Kinney said. She noted news reports from states across the country, which were provided to the board, where school started without universal masking requirements and districts had to quarantine staff and students. 

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended all students and staff wear a mask in schools. Glass had said earlier in the week that KDE’s guidance is “based on science and upon recommendations from public health organizations.” Glass also said “there are certainly competing values that we are all weighing in making these decisions. Our values must be around keeping students and communities safe while prioritizing in-person learning.”

The Local Superintendents Advisory Council (LSAC) met prior to the KBE meeting and voted to recommend that the board table the regulation, and encouraged the KDE to work with DPH to develop local metrics for school districts instead. 

The board took the LSAC’s recommendation under advisement, however, given the statewide impact of the virus, decided to move forward with approval of the emergency regulation.

“There’s no local anymore,” said KBE member Claire Batt. “We are too interconnected. We travel, we go to the next town and therefore we transmit this virus between our communities.”

Several KBE members, including Young and Batt, said they appreciated the many community members who called or wrote emails expressing their opinions on the emergency regulation.

“I want to thank all the parents who have written and expressed their thoughts,” said Batt. “I really appreciate that you are an advocate for your child, but I do urge you to consider the importance of this act in keeping your child safe.”

Glass shared his appreciation for the board’s decision-making amid the many different opinions on mask mandates.

“I am sensitive to and understand that there are many different perspectives and opinions on the question that’s before you,” said Glass. “In our recommendation to you, the values that we put forth are based on the health and safety of our students and their educational experience.”