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Details of COVID at Ky. schools will be released

Information about coronavirus cases in Kentucky schools, including the number of staff and students with positive tests, will be published online and available to the public, state officials said Tuesday.

Kentucky Commissioner of the Department for Public Health Steven Stack on Tuesday said the state will begin to report details on COVID-19 cases in schools. He said the data would include the name of the school, the number of students and staff with positive tests and possibly information about quarantines.

School officials will talk to public health officials and communities about new cases among students and staff, he said. Once a day, state officials will release a report on COVID-19 cases at schools.

“We are working through the details,” Stack said at a virtual meeting with superintendents. Stack said a reporting system is being built. He said schools already report conditions among students such as lice infestations or strep throat and that the COVID case reporting at schools was required by law.

“The public needs to be able to know what risk they are and are not taking if their child is in the classroom and the same thing for the staff,” he said. “This is an attempt to be transparent.”

Gov. Andy Beshear said at his daily news conference that one Kentucky school that had opened to in-person learning had already moved to a virtual only model after a student had tested positive. He said one Kentucky school superintendent had also tested positive for the coronavirus. Beshear did not immediately identify the superintendent or school.

Bowling Green Independent Superintendent Gary Fields announced in a Facebook post Tuesday that he had tested positive for COVID-19. Fields said he was not symptomatic but would stay isolated in his home. Bowling Green Independent plans to open Aug. 24 to a hybrid model of in-person and virtual learning.

Beshear said the reporting system for schools would work much like the reporting for cases in long-term care communities.

Stack said when schools begin to reopen their buildings statewide, districts will have one day to notify their community when a positive case occurs. The day following the positive test, the department for public health will publish a school case report to the public. Such reports also are done for nursing homes and behavioral health hospitals, he said.

The decision to open schools to students or start the year online-only remains a hot topic throughout the state.

Senate President Robert Stivers said in a Aug. 14 letter to superintendents that schools should consider asking parents to waive any claim their child might have from alleged exposure to the virus at school.

He said the Senate is drafting legislation that will protect schools and other entities from liability to COVID-19.

Beshear’s Aug. 10 request that all schools delay in-person learning until September 28 amid a surge in cases has been controversial. Most of Kentucky’s 171 districts agreed to wait and are starting virtually, but others opened to face-to face instruction this week.

Lt. Governor Jacqueline Coleman told superintendents Tuesday that returning to face-to-face instruction was a local decision for districts and that the governor’s recommendation to delay reopening was “coming from a place of caring.”

State Rep. Regina Huff, R-Williamsburg, co-chair of the General Assembly’s Interim Joint Committee on Education, said at a meeting that people wanting students to return to school did not mean that they thought the coronavirus was not dangerous.

“Students need school,” Huff said.

Eric Kennedy, director of advocacy for the Kentucky Schools Board Association, said school board members are frustrated and “shocked” by the controversy that has resulted over reopening schools.

Kennedy said his group thought school boards should have local control over when schools opened to in-person learning.

Staff writer Valarie Honeycutt Spears covers K-12 education, social issues and other topics. She is a Lexington native with southeastern Kentucky roots.

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