I know these are frustrating times for all of Kentucky’s public school families.
Since mid-March, the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus has upended all of our lives. It has interrupted the way we shop, the way our families gather, the way we worship and the way our students learn.
I’ve felt those frustrations, too.
But I wanted to take a few minutes to thank all of you — students, parents, teachers, administrators, superintendents, local school board members and community leaders — who have made the hard decisions and put the health and safety of your communities first.
I know it is never easy to decide to close school buildings to in-person learning, whether because of a snowstorm or a worldwide pandemic. This pandemic has only made those decisions harder.
I understand the frustration of parents and caregivers who want a sense of normalcy for their children.
I know there are a lot of people out there struggling to balance their work, having their children home all the time and then trying to help their children with schoolwork while we are using distance learning.
It is completely understandable why parents want schools to reopen to in-person classes because that, of course, is the best type of education for their kids. I want you to know that we want your children to return to their classrooms, too — when it is safer for them to go.
Now is not the time to dismiss all of the hard work we did earlier this year in stemming the spread of this deadly pandemic. If we reopen schools too early, no matter how good the intentions and no matter how good our reopening plans, our students, our teachers and our communities will suffer.
As you have heard from Dr. Steven Stack, commissioner of the Kentucky Department for Public Health, our infection rates are still too high for school buildings to safely open to in-person classes for all of our students.
If we open buildings now, we could quickly find ourselves in the same position as the Cherokee County School District in Georgia.
Cherokee County reopened schools on Aug. 3, only to shut down again when more than 1,000 students and staff had to quarantine after multiple positive COVID-19 tests in less than two weeks of classes.
The vast majority of Kentucky’s school districts — including its two largest — already have decided to start school virtually this year and reassess the safety of reopening at a later date.
I know this wasn’t an easy decision, but I want to say thank you for making that call.
You have shown courageous leadership and I need you to know that I see that, I recognize it and I appreciate it.
I also want to thank all of our education community for the dedication and hard work to ensure that Kentucky’s students keep learning regardless of where they are.
Kentucky has long been the leader in using non-traditional instruction, but your experiences during the final nine weeks of last school year have only strengthened the commonwealth’s abilities.
The creativity and dedication we have seen coming from you all has made me proud to be part of such a great system.
I know all of you have been working hard all summer long to improve distance instruction even more.
Unfortunately, we still face many uncertainties for the upcoming school year.
But until there is a vaccine for COVID-19, we must remain flexible and willing to do what is best for our students, our families and our communities.
Most importantly, I remain optimistic that if the Commonwealth pulls together like we did last spring, we will create the conditions necessary to proceed with in-person instruction in all of our districts on Sept. 28.
Kevin C. Brown is Kentucky’s interim education commissioner.