By WIRE AND STAFF REPORTS
Lyon County students will not be back in the classroom until late September.
Declaring “we shouldn’t want our kids to be the canaries in the coal mine,” Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear urged schools in the state to delay reopening in-person classes until late September to provide more time to curb the spread of the coronavirus. In a message sent by Lyon County Schools to the families of students following Beshear’s comments, Superintendent Russ Tilford confirmed that the local school district will start in two weeks with virtual learning.
The Democratic governor said Monday that he wants to get children back in school safely during the pandemic, but acknowledged that the state doesn’t have the virus under control. He cited nearly 100,000 children in the United States having tested positive for the virus in the last two weeks.
“Getting them back (in school) at the height of the pandemic, I think, would be irresponsible,” Beshear told reporters. “So our goal is to ensure that we have our timing right. That we don’t act like some of the states that reopened the fastest and reaped repercussions. And then we shouldn’t want our kids to be the canaries in the coal mine.”
The governor recommended that school districts wait until Sept. 28 to resume in-person classes. Beshear, the father of two children, called it a tough but necessary step as the state comes off an escalation of virus cases in July.
“As planned, instruction for Lyon County Schools will begin as non-traditional instruction (NTI) on Aug. 24,” Tilford wrote to parents. “I have great confidence in our teachers to provide outstanding instruction through NTI.”
The final two months of the 2019-20 school year ended with NTI.
Beshear has aggressively combated the virus with a series of executive actions, including a requirement that most Kentuckians wear masks in public.
“Masks are working but we do not have control over this virus,” he said. “And to send tens of thousands of our kids back into in-person classes when we don’t have control on this virus isn’t the right thing to do for our kids. It’s not the right thing to do for their faculty.”
Schools across Kentucky, including in Lyon County, shut down in-person learning in March as the coronavirus spread.
Heading into the new academic year, at least 30 Kentucky districts had already announced they would start with virtual instruction only, the Lexington Herald-Leader reported. Other districts were planning to return later in August or early September.
Last Friday, the Kentucky Education Association called on school officials to delay the beginning of in-class instruction until the state’s COVID-19 positivity rate drops.
Beshear said he consulted with school administrators before offering his new guidance.
In late July, Beshear recommended that schools wait until at least the third week of August to resume in-person classes to help curb the spread of the virus.
On Monday, the governor pointed to rising virus infection rates among children in recommending that in-person classes be delayed until late September. He also pointed to experiences in other states where schools that reopened were forced to shut down after outbreaks. He said he wants to spare Kentucky schools from such disruptions.
But the governor stressed that Kentucky’s cases remain near a peak, making the timing wrong to have children, teachers and staff return to schools.
“The concept that we would try to resume in-person classes at our peak instead of during a decline is something that would defy logic,” he said.
Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman, a veteran educator, said recommending a longer postponement for in-person classes and starting with digital instruction was “the responsible thing to do.”
“More than anything, our educators deserve to be able to return to a place of work that is healthy and that is safe,” she said.
Coleman recently announced that the state’s school districts were being given more flexibility in the way online instruction is provided amid the pandemic.
“While not ideal, this is not unexpected,” Tilford said of Monday’s decision. “This allows us to clearly focus on NTI as we begin this important school year.”
At press time, there had been no decision on athletics. The Kentucky High School Athletic Association is scheduled to meet Aug. 20.
The Herald Ledger contributed to this story.