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Local school officials react to new restrictions on in-person learning

November 19, 2020 | 12:10 am

Updated November 18, 2020 | 10:33 pm

Graphic by Owensboro Times

New restrictions on in-person learning will have a variety of effects on local school districts. While Daviess County and Owensboro public schools will have minimal changes to their plans, Owensboro Catholic Schools are left with big decisions on how to move forward.

Gov. Andy Beshear on Wednesday announced that public and private schools must cease in-person learning beginning Nov. 23. Middle and high schools will 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.

DCPS Superintendent Matt Robbins said the new restrictions nearly mirrored the plans already put in place by the district’s administration. Though elementary schools could potentially return to in-person learning by Dec. 7 under Beshear’s plan, Robbins said DCPS would be sticking to their original plan to conduct virtual learning at all levels until Jan. 4. 

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“It’s kind of ironic. It’s almost like he pulled our plan [for the entire state],” Robbins said. “It’s relieving to know that our line of thinking is validated and in line with the governor’s plan. Nothing that was stated today impacts our plan going forward.” 

OPS Superintendent Matthew Constant echoed similar feelings, saying Beshear’s restrictions on in-person learning fell in line with the current plans already put in place at OPS. 

“Thankfully, our district had already made the decision to move to all virtual beginning this week, so the governor’s announcement hasn’t changed our current plan,” Constant said. 

Constant said OPS still plans to announce their plan moving forward to parents, students and staff by Dec. 3. 

“It is our sincere hope to get students back to in-person learning as soon as possible, but until the number of positive cases and quarantines go down, and this new mandate is lifted, it’s just not possible,” he said. 

Owensboro Catholic Schools have continued in-person learning the entire year, so the newest mandate caused a little more uncertainty as to what the future holds for students, parents and staff. 

“We are looking at and discussing all options and will have an announcement [Thursday] morning,” said OCS Chief Administrative Officer Keith Osborne. 

Earlier Wednesday — prior to Beshear’s announcement — Judge-Executive Al Mattingly held a virtual meeting with Robbins, Constant and OCS Superintendent David Kessler to discuss the ins and outs of handling public and private education as the virus continues to spread across the community. 

All three superintendents said that while spread within their schools remained low, community spread and cases being brought into the school system from the outside had caused an increasing number of quarantines to take place. 

At OCS, Kessler attributed relatively lower numbers of cases and quarantines to continuous mask wearing and simply having a lower number of students. 

“This is the only time we’re small enough that it actually helps us a little bit,” Kessler said. “We have the ability to do a little more based on sheer numbers — in being able to spread our kids out and follow those protocols that are set forth … we have to wear our masks and follow the protocols. And that has worked. We’ve had our fair share of quarantines like everyone else. We’ve brought in a little extra help to deal with those quarantines.”

Kessler said during the virtual meeting that OCS was well aware of the rising number of COVID-19 cases in the community and state and was prepared to make changes if absolutely necessary. 

Green River District Health Department Director Clay Horton on Wednesday night acknowledged transmissions within schools walls have been minimal, but he agrees with the decision to cease in-person learning for now — as well as the other new restrictions Beshear announced. 

“We don’t have strong evidence that there’s student-to-student transmission in the school setting. But we have seen our social dynamics shifted when schools are in session,” he said. “We see that we have families interacting with each other more. There are more opportunities for people to interact. We had a high number of quarantines in the in-school settings because of the number of infections that we have in the community. When you get an incidence rate as high as it is right now, it just becomes very hard to manage organizations that large because so much of your workforce and your clients is going to be impacted.”

He continued, “If the community was really concerned about students learning in person, then they will buckle down and do the right thing now. They’ll make smart decisions about how they’re interacting at the gatherings they’re going to. If they do these things, the incidence rate will come down and we’ll be able to have in-person school again.”

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November 19, 2020 | 12:10 am

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