BOWLING GREEN, Ky. - After Gov. Andy Beshear ordered schools across Kentucky to close in the wake of spiking COVID-19 cases, Warren County Public Schools Superintendent Rob Clayton vowed his district will continue to push for in-person classes.
Warren County Board of Education member Amy Duvall lamented the demise of “local control,” and Clayton indicated school officials were caught off-guard by Beshear’s announcement Wednesday.
“Although we received no information prior to the governor’s press conference (Wednesday) afternoon, we have long recognized that the governor had the authority to implement an executive order, which carries the same authority as law,” Clayton wrote Thursday in a district message to parents.
That pattern will hold for elementary school students until at least Dec. 7, and even then, if Warren County is still in the red with its virus incidence rate, schools won’t reopen.
Middle school students – sixth grade included – and high school students won’t return to their classrooms until at least Jan. 4 under Beshear’s order.
Clayton also outlined potential consequences if schools defy the governor’s order to shift to virtual learning beginning Monday.
“Jason Glass, Kentucky Department of Education commissioner, indicated during a conference call (Wednesday) afternoon that he would remove any superintendent or board member who did not comply with the governor’s order,” Clayton wrote Thursday. “Despite this mandate, please know that we will continue advocating for in-person instruction because we understand firsthand how critical this is for so many of our students.”
Speaking during a school board meeting Thursday, Clayton told families to be prepared for the possibility of extended school closures.
“We do need to be prepared for an extended period of virtual learning,” Clayton said. “I’m not trying to predict the future, but it’s very clear to me that there’s a likely possibility that we would remain in the red category. … The reality is that could continue for some time, and there’s not a lot we can do as a school organization.”
Clayton said the district has seen “no students that have been quarantined in these 58 days since Aug. 24 that have a confirmed case of the virus.”
“We’ve had no students be hospitalized as a result of contracting the virus,” barring one staff member who was briefly hospitalized, Clayton said.
“I’m proud to say she’s already reported back to work a couple of weeks ago. And again, we have no evidence to even suggest that the virus has been spread during the school day student-to-student,” Clayton said.
Clayton said the district is continuing to plan for an eventual reopening. “There still will be an update Dec. 1,” he said. “It’s probably going to look a bit different.”
Warren County school board Chairman Kerry Young sympathized with the difficult position some parents now find themselves in, particularly the parents of a sixth grader who can no longer attend the same school as their younger sibling.
“No matter the configuration of your district, the state is going to operate K-5 and 6-12,” Young said.
Board member Lloyd Williford said he sees WCPS as a “beacon” for other school districts across the state to emulate in its response to the coronavirus pandemic. “I do not like to be surprised, and that’s just the way things have happened,” Williford said.
Duvall said “we are being locked down” under the state order. She said students are being harmed by not being in school, and that there isn’t evidence to show schools being open drives increases in COVID-19 cases.
“Schools are not a significant contributor to community spread. Listen to science,” Duvall said.