MURRAY — One of the main items of Thursday night’s July meeting of the Murray Independent School District Board of Education dealt with wearing of masks and other COVID-19 guidelines for the upcoming school year.

In a story by Paducah television station WPSD, it was noted that MISD had no plans for having students wear masks, whether they were vaccinated or unvaccinated against the coronavirus. This story was a roundup of how area districts were approaching this issue. 

This prompted MISD Superintendent Coy Samons to respond with a statement that he submitted to the station Wednesday afternoon. It said that, while Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear lifted a statewide mask mandate on June 11, MISD was following state and federal officials’ ideas and noted that “just as in the past 15 months, this plan could change based on developing federal and state guidance.”

“Well, (Thursday), it may change,” said Samons before he began handing hard copies of a document his office received at about 3 Thursday afternoon from Kentucky Department of Public Health the state Cabinet for Health, Children and Family Services. 

The new guidance does not have any actual orders for districts but they do appear to be leaning in the direction of strongly suggesting some actions.

First, the guidance asks school districts to “promote and offer vaccination to help increase the proportion of students (12 years of age or older), teachers, staff and family members by encouraging all of those groups to get vaccinated, providing on-site shots or host clinics at schools, encouraging shots for pre-sport/extracurricular activity summer physicals and providing information to families.

Next, the guidance talks about masks. Now. the state is recommending masks for unvaccinated persons while indoors in all classroom and non-classroom settings (unless exempted by medical condition or disability). This part emphasizes that masks are of particular importance when social distancing is not possible.

The state is also now suggesting that school districts require masks be worn on public transportation and this includes public and private buses.This is for all persons 2 years and older unless otherwise exempted and is accordance with President Joe Biden’s executive order and a public health order from the Centers for Disease Control.

Also, the state is asking districts to consider universal use of masks for persons based on presence of student population not yet eligible for the shot (pre-kindergarten through age 6). It also suggests masks may be necessary in the event COVID-19 cases begin rising in a community, along with difficulty getting citizens to adhere to mask policies and vaccination rates being low.

Also noted is physical distancing and the new guidance now suggests that K-12 students stay at least 3 feet from each other when not everyone is fully vaccinated. If necessary, schools should reduce the number of students in classrooms and remove all non-essential furniture. 

For unvaccinated students and teachers/staff, the recommended distance of separation is 6 feet.

Also, the guidance is suggesting districts implement screening testing for unvaccinated students, teachers and staff to help promptly identify and isolate cases. Screening testing can also be considered for unvaccinated individuals participating in sports. 

In addition, unvaccinated students, teachers or staff who are identified as close contacts should be instructed to self-quarantine regardless of whether exposure occurred within or outside of the school. Fully vaccinated persons, though, do not need to quarantine following an exposure to a person diagnosed with COVID-19 if no symptoms are evident.

Samons also detailed more of his statement to WPSD. 

“An online option is available for students who qualify for homebound or home/hospital instruction. Social distancing is encouraged when feasible. But when respective schools reach full capacity, the practice is not always possible,” he said, going on to add that, “My office and district staff will continue to monitor information provided by the CDC, Kentucky Department of Public Health, Calloway County Health Department, Kentucky Department of Education and the Office of the Governor.

“More than 70% of employees in the Murray Independent School District are vaccinated  and MISD will continue to promote hand hygiene and mitigation efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19.”

The complete rundown of the new state guidance can be found at https://chfs.ky.gov/agencies/dph/covid19/K-12Guidance.pdf.

•••

This matter came as returning board member Mark Vinson was sworn into his position by MISD Attorney Chip Adams. 

Vinson previously served 12 years on the board and was appointed in a vote of the current board in May. He is filling the vacancy of Miranda Terry, who relinquished her spot on the board to pursue a job opportunity in Nashville, Tennessee. 

Vinson, a 1977 graduate of Murray High School, said he is glad to be back.

“I want to say that I really do appreciate the confidence of the board to me give this opportunity to serve again in the best school district in the state of Kentucky, and I’ll do everything I can to support our superintendent, teachers and students and I really do appreciate this opportunity and I’m looking forward to a great year.”

Board Chairman Richard Crouch followed that with “We’re happy to have you back.”