MURRAY – With Gov. Andy Beshear’s new COVID-19 restrictions, local superintendents are once again adjusting to a new hiccup in this turbulent school year.
As part of a new executive order announced Wednesday, Beshear said all public and private schools (K-12) must cease in-person instruction starting Monday, Nov. 23. Middle and high schools will remain in remote or virtual instruction until at least Jan. 4, 2021. Elementary schools may reopen for in-person instruction Dec. 7 if their county is not in the red zone and the school follows all Healthy at School guidance.
“I’ve been meeting with our administrative team this morning to review the executive order and exactly what operations will look like between now and Jan. 4 for our middle and high school, and we are very hopeful that we can bring back our K-5 students Dec. 7,” said Murray Independent School District Superintendent Coy Samons on Thursday. “Of course, the biggest impact on that is going to be whether or not we are classified as a red county at that time.”
Samons noted that the executive order states, “Nothing in this Order shall prohibit schools from providing small group in-person targeted services, as provided in KDE guidance.” He said that means school districts at least have some flexibility when it comes to helping certain groups of students who are having a difficult time in remote instruction.
“We are looking at targeted services and bringing in students that may need specialized services or students that may be struggling,” Samons said. “We’re hoping to bring them back in small groups throughout this time period (while schools are closed for in-person instruction). That would (include) students who may need extra interventions for academic performance or … students with special needs or regular ed students with specific academic needs and students with social and emotional needs as well.”
Samons added, “The executive order gives school districts a set of guidelines to follow, and we will follow the executive order to the best of our ability.”
Before the new restrictions were announced, MISD schools were scheduled to remain online only through at least Nov. 30. However, Calloway County Schools returned in person Monday after the Calloway County Board of Education voted last week to end two weeks of non-traditional instruction (NTI). Calloway County Schools Superintendent Tres Settle said the new restrictions were certainly not what he or the board members were hoping for.
“The transitions back and forth from in-person learning to NTI are frustrating to everyone; most notably parents who must work and attempt to balance the issues of childcare and assisting children with school assignments,” Settle said in an email. “I am ever cognizant of these issues and guarded against decisions to close schools for these reasons. The announcement (Wednesday) was a definitive blow to our goal of completing the semester with in-person instruction. We continue to balance the need of our students and parents against the health and well-being of the community as a whole, which make decisions evermore challenging. Considering the extreme rise in cases across the state and the strain that this is placing on our health care providers, I was not surprised at Gov. Beshear’s executive order, but remain nonetheless disappointed. I do not embrace the idea of constantly changing the instructional methods that we offer to our families, but in this instance it is out of our hands because an executive order from the governor carries the force of law.
“At this point, the allowance of elementary schools to return to instruction on Dec. 7 is far from a foregone conclusion. The stipulation that we must be out of the “RED” by that date is a highly unlikely event as it will follow a week behind a holiday season that promises many will ignore the recommendation to limit family gatherings. I have little faith at this point that Calloway County will be out of the “RED” category by this time, and hesitate to give false hope on a return to in-person instruction. Of course, we will be closely monitoring the situation daily, but our preparations at this time are focused on finishing the fall semester remotely, and I encourage parents to plan accordingly. Ultimately, if the need arises to make this determination under Gov. Beshear’s stipulations, it will be a school board decision and a special called meeting will be held to make that decision if permissible at that time.
“In the meantime, we have many students, particularly at the middle and high school levels, who remain behind with their instructional responsibilities. If there is a silver lining in any of this disappointment, it is that there is more freedom for teachers to be able to assist students who have fallen behind. I urge parents of children in this boat to have genuine conversations with their child about the importance of education in their lives and to check on their grades as parents to ensure that they are doing the work required to keep pace and complete the courses assigned.
“As children mature, we as parents often ask our children how things are going at school and trust that they are sincere when receive the typical teenage answers of, ‘Fine’ or “Going good.’ I beg parents to go a step forward and check their grades through the parent portal of Infinite Campus or have their child log into the Edmentum Platform that we are using where both the student and parent can see progress and graded assignments. Our teachers are working so hard to reach out to both parents and students, but many times their emails and phone calls go unanswered, unfortunately.”