Students sent home until September 7 as case numbers spike in schools; officials discuss options for future

Posted September 2, 2021 at 8:44 am

Prior to schools being closed this week through the Labor Day holiday next Monday, and some apparent regulation changes, including those related to testing students, the Clinton County School Board met with principals, some administrators and a handful of parents to discuss COVID-19 last Tuesday, August 24.
Four of five board members were on hand for the special meeting, which lasted just under an hour, with a lot of input being taken from board members, school principals and others present.
Superintendent Dr. Tim Parson opened the meeting by announcing the possibility of virtual learning, which was used during the school year in 2020-21 due to the COVID pandemic, but is not highly recommended as the best option for learning.
Parson also mentioned the state Supreme Court’s decision rescinding Governor Andy Beshear’s mask mandate in public schools. However, he made it clear the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) had set its own mandate pertaining to requiring students to wear masks, something that all public school districts have to comply with, regardless of the Supreme Court’s decision on the governor’s mandate.
Stacy Evans, Director of District Programs for the school district, also gave the numbers of students affected by the COVID-19 virus. Apparently the new Delta variant is spreading rapidly and affects more young people than the first strain of COVID that shut down schools last year.
Evans gave numbers at each school, with the middle school and high school having the highest case numbers as of a week ago, and almost 200 students–not counting staff members–were on quarantine at that juncture.
Board member Bobbie Stone said she had heard concerns about contact with students who may have been positive and parents not getting enough information. “When a child has been exposed, they (parents) want to know everything.”
Stone recommended that when school officials talk to parents, to be consistent and transparent.
Clinton County Middle School Principal Angela Sloan told the board the staff at her school  was already “stretched to the limit.” Our staff does not mean to be insensitive, but sometimes even your best is not good enough.”
Board Chairperson Leslie Stockton suggested some kind of “form” or “checklist” for administrators and staff to work on and make the public and parents aware in situations pertaining to possible exposure to the virus.
Evans said the schools (when testing was taking place) had become testing centers.
Stockton questioned, with the high number of cases, how long could schools stay open.
Dr. Parson said between 85 and 90 percent of those students who were tested following possible exposure to someone who had the virus tested negative.
The superintendent added that “I don’t know how much longer we can do it,” also saying the staff’s (safety) comes right behind our kids.
Stone said a suggestion had been made that the district look at working virtually for a month and then revisit the issue. However, Parson countered that if kids are kept at home, they would still be out and exposed, and it would defeat the purpose.
One person said, “It does not work if everyone does not do their part. We need to focus on working together.”
Stockton also said she felt adding virtual learning onto a teacher’s workload “is too much.”
Early Childhood Center Principal Sheldon Harlan, in discussing virtual learning as an option, noted there were kids as young as three years old at the ECC and “not many will take it…most parents want their kids in school,” he said.
Board member Kevin Marcum asked if teachers couldn’t do both virtual and in-person teaching in “real time” by teaching kids at home while also those in the classroom.
Albany Elementary Principal Sabra Albertson also said it was not a good option for elementary school age children. Dr. Parson then added to her statement that he could see a problem with cameras (which would be required for virtual teachers if in real time) in the classroom.
Principal Sloan also concurred with Harlan and Albertson about CCMS, saying, “my teachers can’t do both.” She noted students had questions for teachers at all hours, day and night. When trying to give the best education, standing in front of a camera is not the same.
Sloan also said it was a struggle to even start the school year with enough teachers to begin with.
CCHS Principal Ken Dearborn said that virtual learning would have to be structured and would depend on the criteria and numbers of students that would be virtual. He added getting kids to log on during school hours is tough.
Stockton asked how many students a teacher could handle by virtual teaching at one time, with the answer being between 30 and 40. There are also instructional videos for virtual learning online that meet required standards.
It was noted that the instructional programs for online virtual learning “is not easy” and “if a student does not have the drive, they cannot make it.”
One teacher at CCHS, James Guffey, noted he was practically already doing virtual with about 30 students.
The superintendent also added that what is complicating the situation is that the KDE did not grant any waivers to extend the number of NTI (Non-Traditional Instruction) days past the basic 10 allotted.
A question was asked, if virtual learning was offered, who would set the criteria, with Parson said probably the Instructional Supervision and a committee made up of administrators and staff.
Though there seemed to be a general consensus among board members and administrators present that in-person classroom learning was best, and virtual online learning would be a last option, the board did take action to have in place the possibility of virtual learning if necessary.
The only action item by the board was taken at the end of the meeting when board member Gary Norris made a motion to approve an online waiver with the KDE to have in place if virtual school is necessary for students. The motion passed by unanimous vote.
The next board work session is scheduled for September 16 and next business meeting for September 20, both at 5 p.m. at the Clinton Learning and Career Center on Hwy. 90 west and are open to the general public.