Schools begin virtual, will be in classrooms August 31

Posted August 19, 2020 at 7:55 am


Clinton County students haven’t been in an actual classroom since school went to Non-Traditional Instruction (NTI) during the second week of March.

Monday, August 17, was going to be the first day back with in-person attendance, but on Monday afternoon, August 10, Governor Andy Beshear made a “recommendation” for all schools in the state of Kentucky to go the virtual route until September 28.

It was first stressed to the school officials in the State of Kentucky that Beshear’s “recommendation” wasn’t just a “recommendation,” but a requirement.

On Thursday of last week, Superintendent Dr. Tim Parson, along with the school board, decided to go with the “recommendation” and not start in-person school until September 28.

On Friday of last week, all that changed as several school districts in the area decided to leave the option of having in-person school up to the parents.

Now, students will be allowed to attend in-person school on August 31 with a signed waiver, with all students starting virtually this week, on August 17.

“The whole thing with us was how likely are we to have legal problems at school if a child gets sick?” Parson said. “There is all kinds of evidence out there now that says it’s a good idea for kids to go to school. That’s what changed it for us. Legally, it’s always a risk, but is risk worth taking and when you have that much support from the senate, then let’s go.”

Instead of going ahead with the original plan of holding in-person school on August 17, Parson said since the decision was made on Thursday and then changed on Friday with school originally planned to start on Monday, he felt just delaying the starting date for in-person school would give the community and teachers more time to be prepared for in-person school.

“Teachers have been jerked around a lot. It’s really, really hard on teachers and everybody to make such a quick turnaround,” Parson said. “Since it was already Friday, it made sense to give them a little bit of time. At this point, we know there will be around 30 percent virtually when we come back and of course we are going to ask parents to sign a wavier saying they know we can’t prevent their kid from getting anything. Parents have been jerked around a lot, too. We’ve all been at the mercy of the governor. We can’t make any announcements until we know how that’s going to work out.”

Another reason for the two week push back for in-person school was to see how other school districts fare with opening in-person classes this week.

“Green County started today (August 17), that gives us two weeks to see if they are ‘walking off a cliff’ in these other places,” Parson said. “It’s just the wise thing to do based on the timing. If we could have made all that happen earlier in the week then we probably would have had school today.”

Parson said if they made a decision to have in-person classes then the district needed to contact the Commissioner of Education.

“When the first district didn’t go with the recommendation and they had their meeting, everyone was asking how that went,” Parson said. “Because that was a part of the threat, was that we would have to meet with the Commissioner of Education. They backed up and said, ‘well, we aren’t really going to do anything.’”

All it took was for one school district to go against the recommendation of holding off school until September 28, for the state to rethink all the threats and consequences to holding in-person school.

As far as the back and forth with school closing then opening back up, last week, during a meeting with all the superintendents in the State of Kentucky Tuesday, August 11, Parson said interim commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Education Kevin Brown said if school districts don’t comply with the “recommendation” then there would be “consequences” if school districts opened to in-person learning.

“They said they are going to bring in the new commissioner, Jason Glass, Lou Young, the Kentucky Board of Education Board Chair, and their own legal council,” Parson said.

Parson said they would meet with him, Clinton County’s School Board Chair and the school’s legal council to try and “change our minds” about opening school.

“Basically they said they want to try and figure out why we can’t do what they’ve told us to do,” Parson said.

Parson went on to paraphrase on what was said in the meeting stating if the school district’s mind wasn’t changed on opening school then “we were told the department of public health can shut us down, KDE can shut us down or the governor with an executive order can shut us down.”

“They made us feel like ‘you can open if you want to, but we are just going to close you down anyway,’” Parson said. “That’s what we felt like.”

Parson said there was a lot of discussion and ultimately there were three things that happened last week which swayed their decision to not have in-person classes until August 31.

Initially, the threats implicated against the local system, weighed heavy on that first decision to delay.

“Three things happened that made it a bad idea to come together,” Parson said. “The first one was you can open, but we are just going to shut you down anyways. After it came out, that under the table, this is more than a recommendation, threating us with consequences, then our insurance company … said in light of what’s come out this looks like more of a requirement and it could be interpreted as a requirement.”

Basically the insurance company the school district has obtained told Parson the government has told the school district what to do and allowing students to attend school in a “face-to-face” manner is going against the government.

“If the government is telling you to do something and you don’t do it then you’re not covered by our insurance,” Parson said is what he was told by the insurance company. “Essentially that’s what they said.”

Attorney Winter Huff, of Monticello, was hired as Clinton County School District Attorney in April of 2019.

Parson said Huff advised him that with it being a “recommendation” he would have the loop hole of being able to return to school and if an outbreak occurred then the district could just shut down.

“But after that came out, she said basically that, not in these words, we would be very unwise at this point to try and do it,” Parson said.

Parson said in his role as superintendent, there are what’s called ministerial functions and discretionary functions.

“Discretionary is basically judgment calls,” Parson said. “Ministerial functions are the things that are in statute and regulation that say ‘Shall.’ I don’t have any wiggle room in those. It’s pretty open and close for a judge if there is a ministerial function you don’t follow. If the law says you shall do this and you don’t do it then there’s no debate. That’s what got the whole thing complicated.”

Looking at it that way, Parson said it quickly went from being an insurance problem to breaking the law because “the government told you to do something and you didn’t do it.”

Another aspect of being at the school is feeding each and every student and Parson said they are going to continue to do that.

“We may even consider doing some home visits if we can get by with it,” Parson said. “Just to see how they are. If nothing else, just go to the door and talk with them for five minutes.”

With 30 percent of students attending school virtually, Parson said he is working on improving the parent website to give more information on how to do Google Classroom.

“It’s going to be better than it was in March,” Parson said. “We have to show that we are not pressuring to come to school. We think taxpayers deserve that choice. I think it’s best for kids personally and there is a lot of research that says that.”

Parson said he knows that as of right now, there is only one person who is a school-aged child who has the virus.

“If that were to happen while we were in school, that kid would be quarantined and be out of school,” Parson said. “If he was in a class then that class would be out and in quarantine. We would still go on with business everywhere else.”

When the news broke that several school districts in the state of Kentucky were going against the governor’s recommendation, Parson said he was excited.

“We aren’t just fighting for kids today, for their mental health today, for their ability to play sports today, to come to school in-person today … we know if a kindergartner is learning to read at home that’s got ramifications for them for life. It has ramifications on our community, both short term and long term.”

Other benefits to allowing students to attend in-person classes is parents are now able to return to work on a normal schedule.

“People are able to work and I’m excited about that,” Parson said. “I feel like that’s a win. Through this process, I feel like we’ve earned some respect from our community, because they sensed they’ve been heard through this process. In the end they are going to get a choice and I believe that has brought us all together on the same page. They see that we are going to fight for their kids and now they have a choice to make of what they think is right.”

In preparation for the potential start of in-person classes, teachers at the Clinton County High School held a drive-thru orientation Wednesday to pass out Chromebooks and other materials needed for the start of the 2020-21 school year.