As August begins, the start of the school year draws closer for students around the Tri-State, however, the excitement of getting back to class continues to be overshadowed by concerns and changes surrounding the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Though each school has laid out its own reopening guidelines in an effort to keep pupils and staff as safe as possible as they return to in-person instruction, parents, teachers, and government leaders are still stuck between the crossroads of maintaining a good education, a strong economy, and a healthy community.
Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear joined Jessica Hartman 44News in an exclusive interview where he discussed his plans for getting students and teachers back in the classroom, how to keep them safe, and more.
Getting Kentucky Students Back in Class Amid COVID-19
On Monday, July 27, Kentucky's governor called on both public and private schools in the Bluegrass State to wait until at least the third week of August to start in-person classes. Beshear says the status of the coronavirus in Kentucky must be monitored on a week-to-week basis in order to determine if beginning in-person classes at that time will have allowed for enough time to do so safely.
"None of us want to send our kids in an environment where they're exposed to danger, or that they can come home and expose caregivers, grandparents, and others to this virus," said Gov. Beshear.
"What's critical is over the next couple weeks, that we see this commonwealth getting better control on the virus," Beshear continued. "We have to watch week to week to make sure that's going to happen."
"Since we have had that facial covering mandate where everybody has to wear a mask, the last three weeks we've gone from growth of 40% or 50% in cases week-over-week to down to about 4% or 5%," said Beshear. "So we are stopping the growth. Now we've got to get to a plateau, and we hope to get to a decline."
The Reopening of Kentucky Schools and How it Relates to the State's Economy
According to Gov. Beshear, getting kids back in the classroom is closely connected to the economy as well as public health. The Kentucky governor says that following state-issued health and safety guidelines is vital in both reopening schools and saving Kentuckian lives.
"We used to think that the economy and public health were kind of battling back and forth in what we needed to do, and how to balance the two - but now we know that those two, and getting kids back in school, and having daycare are all connected," said Beshear.
"It's all about taking the steps that help us control and tamp down this virus. It's about wearing the facial coverings, staying six-feet apart, not having more than 10 people over to your house - those things are making a difference," Beshear went on to say.
"If we can control the numbers, if we can ensure that we don't overwhelm our healthcare system, we can continue to open our economy, we can get those kids back in school, and we can save lives and protect the health of Kentuckians. It is now all interconnected," stated Kentucky's governor.
The Governor's Plan on Protecting At-Risk Teachers and Students
Gov. Beshear says additional flexibility that will help support at-risk teachers and students is being implemented.
"At-risk kids that may have severe asthma, they're more at risk to this virus - they should have the option to stay home and do virtual learning, even if others are going back in the classroom," Beshear stated. "Same thing with teachers - those that have underlying health conditions or fall into the at-risk areas shouldn't be forced back into a classroom."
Beshear said the flexibility to choose between at-home learning or in-person instruction is necessary for Kentucky's return to offering students a successful education amid the pandemic.
"We've got to have that flexibility, and on the state level, we are looking every day at different regulations and others that we can change so that we provide the maximum amount of flexibility for our school districts - but we need our school districts to take advantage of that," said Beshear. "Let's make sure that we're not forcing at-risk kids or at-risk teachers into the classroom, let's do this in a smart and thoughtful way where we put our health first, but we are able to still provide that quality education."
Personal Protective Equipment and Coronavirus Testing Availability in Schools
Gov. Beshear said testing and PPE are less of a concern than the current status of the virus at the moment.
"When the virus is spreading really significantly, you can't test your way out of it," said Beshear.
"Testing lets us know when people have it, and when we need to isolate them, but it's truly those prevention steps that are going to get us to a place where we can not only open schools - because anybody can open a school but you gotta keep it open," Beshear continued. "We want to make sure that we can open and stay open at that right time."
The Governor re-emphasized the importance of maintaining mask-wearing practices and travel restrictions to ensure maximum control of the spread of the virus and reopen schools safely.
"We need to not just start with good practices, we need to keep those good practices up and remember that we are all connected - that if one of us makes one of those decisions, it can impact everybody around us," Beshear explained.
How will Kentucky School Districts Handle Weeks-Long Absences Due to COVID-19 Exposure?
Gov. Beshear says that the state wants to support teachers and students that are personally dealing with COVID-19 as to not force them back into the classroom while still possibly exhibiting symptoms of the virus.
"We want to be supportive, especially of those that are exposed to the virus, or that are having to deal with COVID itself - and we need to be fully supportive so that we don't create a pressure where they would go back into schools," said Beshear. "We saw that early on in the virus when some companies didn't have paid leave - and those that were living week-to-week were showing back up even though they might have symptoms."
"We cannot let that happen in our schools," Beshear said. "Too much is at stake."
Beshear added that allowing flexibility for teachers and students to teach and learn virtually would allow for those exposed to COVID-19 to maintain their employment/education while quarantining at home.
Will Sports Be the First to Go if Numbers Increase in Kentucky Schools?
Beshear says the education of Kentucky children will always be put before sports.
"I think we will have fall sports if it is safe to do so," said Beshear. "Let's make sure that school comes first, but if and when it's safe, we want to make sure we get those sports in."
"I've got two kids that play, and again, if it's safe, I want them to be able to play," Gov. Beshear explained. "But we all want to put their health and safety first, and their education right up there with it."