Education officials in Kentucky are working to reopen public schools as the coronavirus pandemic continues to claim lives throughout the commonwealth. Interim Education Commissioner Kevin Brown and Lieutenant Governor/Education and Workforce Development Secretary Jacqueline Coleman announced the first set of guidelines for schools during a press conference Wednesday in Frankfort.
All students, faculty and staff will be required to maintain six feet of distance in addition to wearing face masks. Brown said students may be seated closer than six feet as long as their faces are covered. Coleman added that despite the controversy surrounding mask usage, they are an important tool in limiting the spread of COVID-19.
"Wearing a mask is much more comfortable than wearing a respirator," Coleman said.
The Kentucky Department of Education is recommending smaller class sizes to accommodate the social distancing requirement. Brown said while buses may operate at normal capacity, mask compliance will be essential to keeping school transportation safe. Temperature checks will be conducted both on buses and on school campuses.
Coleman announced statutory changes that will give districts flexibility to meet the individual needs of their schools. She said she approved an order suspending the limit on nontraditional instruction (NTI) days. NTI was extensively used beginning in March to deliver classroom instruction through electronic means. Districts will be allowed to use NTI at their discretion in the 2020-2021 school year in response to COVID-19 outbreaks, or as a tool to limit the amount of students on campus at any given time. Coleman said her administration is also suspending statutes linking school funding to student attendance.
Federal dollars will provide a three to one match for Kentucky schools seeking to expand on-campus health services. The "Expanded Care Program" will allow schools to hire new nurses, audiologists, mental health workers and more using mostly federal funds. Coleman said the services will be helpful to school districts adjusting to the guidelines imposed by the state.
Governor Andy Beshear provided an update on the commonwealth's unemployment insurance backlog Wednesday. He said the state government will open temporary field offices to help UI claimants outside Frankfort. Offices in Ashland and Owensboro will be available June 29-30, with sites in Somerset and Hopkinsville opening July 7-8. More information will be available in the coming days.
Kentucky saw 229 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday, bringing the statewide total to 14,363. Some of the new cases come from western Kentucky counties including Christian, Henderson, Daviess, Graves, Logan, Hopkins and McCracken.
One Kentuckian died, an 89-year-old man from Laurel County, raising the commonwealth's death toll to 538.
Find more information concerning Kentucky’s response to the novel coronavirus here.