When kindergartener Rowan Mann and his sister Anorah Mann, in pre-k, arrived at Frankfort’s Good Shepherd Catholic School for the first day of school Monday, they at first had to remain in their vehicle.
Librarian Sarah Patterson, wearing a mask, reached inside to check their temperature before taking them in the building.
“Rowan’s been talking about going to kindergarten for years,” said his mother Shawna Mann. “To find a place that I felt was safe and open was nice. They have a good process for keeping things clean.”
Shawna Mann hugs her son, Rowan, 5, a kindergarten student, as she drops him off at Good Shepherd Catholic School in Frankfort, Ky., on the first day of school, Monday, Aug. 17, 2020. Ryan C. Hermens email@example.com
Good Shepherd was among the public, private and parochial schools that opened to face-to-face instruction Monday, despite Gov. Andy Beshear’s recommendation to delay until September 28.
Officials in some public districts, such as Madison County, agreed to wait on reopening campuses. But Green County opened as scheduled Monday. It was the first public district to reopen to in-person learning that the Kentucky School Boards Association was aware of.
Megan Arnett said she and her husband allowed their three children, ages 12, 8 and 9 to decide if they wanted to go back in-person or virtually.
The kids wanted to go back in-person.
“They told me they didn’t feel like they’d learn anything if they stayed home, “ Arnett said.
She said the children didn’t do as well when they were learning only virtually last spring.
The Arnetts have a dairy farm, so she can’t be at home all day making sure the kids are staying on top of their work.
Arnett said she thinks the school district is working to keep her children safe.
Her children wore masks on the school bus Monday morning, but didn’t have to wear masks at school if they were social distancing, six feet apart.
Katie Raffety, of Greensburg, whose daughter Lilly started kindergarten Monday, said she favored the school district going back in person. She said her family didn’t have any trouble after they went to Florida four weeks ago when cases were at a peak.
“I’m not worried at all,” said Rafferty. Only Green County students in first grade and up were required to wear a mask, but not if there is room to distance. Rafferty didn’t make her kindergartener wear one Monday.
Rafferty said she thinks the coronavirus is a real problem but she also thinks the numbers of cases reported are somewhat inflated.
Rafferty said her daughter did not do as well as a head-start student last spring after virtual learning began.
One Green County family made the decision to go virtually only because of the potential health risks of in-person learning.
Janet Phelps and her husband, a pharmacist, own pharmacies in Greensburg and Campbellsville. Their son Reed is in high school and daughter Reagan is in middle school.
She said there’s a lot of unknowns about the virus.
“Why put anyone at risk that doesn’t have to be,” Phelps said. “Why expose anyone to any risk.”
She said knows that a lot of families don’t have reliable internet or don’t have two parents who can guide virtual learning, but it was the best decision for her family. Phelps said it was her understanding that only about 16 or 17 percent of public school students in the county had decided to start school virtually.
Piper Nowaczewski, a first grade student in Kelli Coleman’s class at Good Shepherd Catholic School in Frankfort, Ky., colors an “all about me” form on the first day of school, Monday, Aug. 17, 2020. RYAN C. HERMENS firstname.lastname@example.org
In Frankfort, Michele Ulrich is principal of Good Shepherd, a pre-k through eighth grade school with about 137 students returning in-person and a few virtually only. Ulrich said deep cleaning had been underway since March.
Students, who are wearing masks and are placed six feet apart in the classroom and in the cafeteria, are glad to be back, she said. Preschool students are eating in their classroom.
Ulrich said getting back in the classroom was a long time coming for students, that “socially they needed it.”
“I pray we all stay healthy,” she said.
With COVID-19 cases surging, especially among school age children, on August 10 Beshear asked that schools consider opening virtually until September 28 and said “we do not have control over this virus.”
“And to send tens of thousands of our kids back into in-person classes when we don’t have control of this virus, it’s not the right thing to do for these kids, it’s not the right thing to do for their faculty and it’s not the right thing to do as Governor,” he said.
Generally all Kentucky schools followed Beshear’s request to shut down schools when the coronavirus pandemic began in March. However, he got push back following his latest request, and a few private schools began the new academic year with in-person learning last week. A few others will start Monday and later this week.
As often happens at schools on the first day, first graders at Good Shepherd worked on an exercise about getting to know their classmates. As classes got underway, a staff member cleaned surfaces in the library.
A Good Shepherd Facebook post said tuition would be 50 percent off for students new to Catholic schools. Shawna Mann said she decided about three weeks ago to enroll her children, who are new to the school.
First grade teacher Kelli Coleman helps Ramiro Grimes complete an “all about me” assignment at Good Shepherd Catholic School in Frankfort, Ky., on the first day of school, Monday, Aug. 17, 2020. Ryan C. Hermens email@example.com
Last week, Tom Brown, Superintendent of Schools for the Catholic Diocese of Lexington which includes Good Shepherd, sent a letter to schools about the decision to reopen Catholic schools in the state to in-person learning.
He encouraged parents to focus on the principles outlined in the School Re-entry Plans: mask wearing, hygiene, social distancing, health checks, staying home if sick.
Some student athletes at Kentucky public schools contracted the coronavirus after workouts resumed this summer. Fayette County Public Schools was among the first districts in the state to announce that it would begin the 2020-2021 school year virtually until conditions were safer.
Kentucky Department of Education and public health officials have been trying to change the decisions of more than a dozen public school districts that announced they were reopening their campuses before Sept. 28, fearing the outbreaks that schools nationwide have experienced.
The Green County school system set out standards for protecting students and staff based on the level of active coronavirus cases in the community, with tighter controls if the case index goes up.
All the stages envision measures that include regular use of hand sanitizer, efforts to keep six feet apart and daily temperature checks for students and employees.
Students will be encouraged, but not required, to wear masks throughout the day when it isn’t possible to keep six feet from others.
In the second tier of standards, which will come into play if cases go up enough in the community, students still won’t be required to wear masks at all times, but will have to wear them on the bus and in common areas where they remain for an extended time.
If there is a positive case affecting a student, other students who were in contact with the person will have to switch to virtual learning for at least two weeks under the tighter controls.
And if the community case index goes above a certain level, the system will switch to online instruction, according to the plan released by Superintendent Will Hodges.
In an update posted Saturday night, the Lake Cumberland District Health Department, which includes Green County, said schools “represent a series of difficult challenges,” including how to enforce social distancing and whether students will be diligent about wearing face coverings.
Each school in the 10-county district submitted thoughtful re-opening plans before Beshear asked them to push back in-person classes until at least Sept. 28, the health district said.
After that, the guidance from health officials became to wait for in-person classes.
“Will COVID-19 spread within the schools at an accelerated rate if they return to in-person instruction? Very likely it will,” the district health department said in the Saturday post.
That’s what has happened in other states, it noted.
The department also pointed out that the guidelines on re-opening schools aren’t as strict as the ones for operating nursing homes, and still the disease has spread quickly in several of those facilities.
“The question our society faces right now in terms of schools reopening to face-to-face instruction is, ‘Is the remedy (virtual classes to avoid the spread of COVID-19) worse than the problem (the significant chance of causing a community spike in COVID-19 cases [and the mortality and hospitalizations that would undoubtedly follow] if schools return to face-to-face instruction)?’” district health officials said in the post.
“Each community will have to answer that question for itself.”
Staff writer Valarie Honeycutt Spears covers K-12 education, social issues and other topics. She is a Lexington native with southeastern Kentucky roots.