School Board Approves Plan
Masks currently required in schools until October 31
By Eugenia Jones
In a special called Board meeting last Wednesday (September 15), the McCreary County Board of Education met to approve a revised Safe Return to Instruction and Continuity of Services Plan (COVID-19 School Operations Plan.)
Speaking to the Board of Education, Superintendent Corey Keith explained much of the plan remains unchanged from the plan approved prior to the opening of school in August. Perhaps the most significant change in the current plan is the universal masking component for all persons in schools and indoor facilities when students are present continuing until October 31, 2021. The universal masking requirement will be reevaluated no later than October 25, 2021. On school buses, masks are required for all persons.
“The most significant change is with masking,” Keith told the Board. “I think we can have different opinions and agree to disagree. My belief, based on guidance from the local health department, is to continue universal masking until the end of October and reevaluate at that time.”
Earlier this year, the Board and Superintendent expressed a desire for masking to be optional; however, masking in the schools was enforced and designated in the original Operations Plan because of a mandate by KY Governor Andy Beshear. Recently, KY’s Supreme Court struck down the Governor’s mask mandate and allowed the Kentucky legislative body to return the decision making process about school masking to the local level. With the Governor’s mandate expiring at the end of last week, the local Board of Education was forced to make a quick decision regarding masking in McCreary County schools. With McCreary County currently in the red (critical) COVID-19 zone and experiencing a drastic surge in the number of COVID-19 cases, Superintendent Keith said, in his mind, the masking requirement is necessary for the time-being.
Board Member Johnny Barnett agreed.
“We’ve always gone by the numbers,” Barnett stated. “If something happened to one of the kids, I couldn’t live with it. I’m for safety first.”
Board Chairperson Braxton King noted the Board must develop a matrix for future use that will link the wearing of masks with specific criteria such as the number of local COVID-19 cases. For example, a matrix might require masks when the District is in the red (critical) zone but make masks optional when the District is in the green (on track) zone. A matrix must be developed prior to October 25 when the Board reevaluates the current universal masking requirement.
Keith noted the current masking requirement will only be in effect for approximately four weeks of school with fall break scheduled in the midst of the mask requirement timeline.
“By extending the masking requirement until October 31, we will have about two weeks of required masking after we come back from fall break,” Keith stated. “I feel that gives us some protection against the possible spread of COVID resulting from family travel during fall break.”
The District will also participate in the state’s “test to stay” program which provides testing for students who have had close contact exposure to the virus and are required to quarantine. In the “test to stay” program, students who might otherwise be forced to quarantine because of close contact can choose to be tested each morning for a period of time and remain at school as long as they test negative for the virus. The program, including the staff needed to administer testing, is provided and funded through the state.
During the special called meeting, parents and two school nurses who were present spoke out in support of the current masking requirement.
“I’ve already had to send so many students home to quarantine,” one school nurse said as she fought back tears. “Our students want to be in school. Wearing masks reduces the number of students in quarantine. Wearing a mask is the least we can do. Without masks, we’ll be sending more and more students home when they want and need to be at school.”
Other aspects of the newly approved plan address physical distancing and contact tracing, screening and isolation, other preventive measures, instruction, athletics, and reporting.
The only other item of business during the special called meeting involved the Board of Education creating four special education teachers (1 per school) and two districtwide teachers to assist with remote learning.