A federal appellate court on Sunday sided with Gov. Andy Beshear, upholding his decision to suspend in-person learning at all public and private schools across the state.
In their ruling, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit — made up of three judges — overturned a Wednesday night order by U.S. District Judge Gregory Van Tatenhove that would have allowed private religious schools to return to in-person instruction Monday.
“As the governor explains, elementary and secondary schools pose unique problems for public health officials responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. Compliance with masking and social distancing requirements is difficult to maintain, and students receiving in-person instruction must, in any event, remove their facial coverings to eat,” the ruling stated.
The ruling further reads, “[The executive order] applies to all public and private elementary and secondary schools in the Commonwealth, religious or otherwise; it is therefore neutral and of general applicability and need not be justified by a compelling governmental interest. … We are not in a position to second-guess the governor’s determination regarding the health and safety of the Commonwealth at this point in time.”
In a statement issued Sunday, Beshear said the pandemic response needs a coordinated effort across Kentucky.
“While we all want to get our kids back to in-person instruction, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit recognized that doing so now would endanger the health and lives of Kentucky children, educators and families,” the statement reads. “Almost every county is in the red zone, we have had nearly 10,000 students and staff in quarantine over the past two weeks, our hospitals are on the verge of being overwhelmed and we have lost nearly 1,900 fellow Kentuckians, including health care workers, a teacher and a 15-year-old student. To help save more lives and defeat this virus, we need everyone to do their part.”
Earlier this month, Attorney General Cameron and Danville Christian Academy filed a lawsuit against Beshear asking the court to issue a statewide temporary restraining order against the governor’s restriction regarding in-person instruction at religious schools.
“We’re disappointed with the Sixth Circuit’s ruling allowing the Governor to close religious schools, but we’re already hard at work to take this matter to the United States Supreme Court,” Cameron said in a Sunday morning statement.
Some local schools announced late last week they planned to resume in-person instruction in some capacity starting Monday.
Heritage Christian School — which was one of several Kentucky schools that filed amicus briefs in support of the lawsuit — planned to return Monday in full.
Owensboro Catholic Schools planned to allow students in grades K-6 to return Monday, with students in grades 7-12 returning as early as Dec. 7.
Schools in Whitesville planned to return in similar phases. Students at St. Mary of the Woods School (grades K-8) were set to return Monday, while officials were hopeful students at Trinity High School (grades 9-12) could return Dec. 7.
Officials with those schools were not immediately available to comment but may release statements later today.
According to Beshear’s initial order on Nov. 18, public and private schools had to cease in-person learning beginning Nov. 23. Middle and high schools are to remain in remote instruction until Jan. 4. Elementary schools may reopen Dec. 7 if their county is not in the red zone and the school follows all Healthy at Schools guidance.