State health and education officials have announced a new system for determining whether K-12 schools should be opened or closed.

The new color-coded guidance system, announced Monday during Governor Andy Beshear's daily briefing and expected to take effect September 28, will assign one of four colors to counties each week based on the positivity rate (number of people per 100,000 who are infected with COVID-19):

• GREEN: (Less than 1 case per 100,000 people daily) Maintain Healthy at School guidance for in-person or remote learning.

• YELLOW: (1-10 cases per 100,000 people daily) Maintain Healthy at School guidance with additional mitigation and/or heightened safety precautions as needed.

• ORANGE: (10-25 cases per 100,000 people daily) Consider remote learning only while pursuing "aggressive" mitigation measures and safety precautions.

• RED: (More than 25 cases per 100,000 people daily) Suspend in-person instruction, athletic and extracurricular activities until community returns to Yellow level.

"Determination of school opening/closure for the following school week (Monday) should be determined by the color level of your county at 8 p.m. EST every Thursday as shown on the County Incidence Map found at www.kycovid19.ky.gov," the document states, adding the system is only in effect when the statewide positivity rate is below six percent.

As of Thursday afternoon, Pulaski County is currently Orange with a positivity rate of 13.4.

With three school districts in Pulaski County, questions arose about whether the new system could shut them all down at the same time or if school officials could decide considering numbers specifically within their district.

"I'm going to use the metrics as a tool to help guide my decision-making," Pulaski County Schools Superintendent Patrick Richardson said Thursday. "We're a very large district with schools spread throughout the county. We also want to look at how the adults and students who are quarantined or actually positive are spread throughout the district."

Richardson favors the flexibility the state has given districts in counting attendance which makes it possible to switch a particular team or grade level to virtual learning at an individual school for two weeks or so rather than the whole district or even the whole school. In terms of sports, officials can shut down a practice pod that's been impacted by COVID-19 before the virus spreads.

For the smaller districts, an outbreak affecting the countywide positivity rate but far removed from their boundaries could shut them down for at least two weeks seemingly without need. Science Hill Independent School Superintendent Jimmy Dyehouse also expressed concern over how difficult it would be to achieve Green status with less than one case per 100,000.

Still Somerset Independent Schools Superintendent Kyle Lively was pleased "to finally receive some type of metric from the state level.

"More importantly, it is great to see some local decision making authority returned to school districts," Lively said. "These freedoms allow local boards and superintendents to make decisions that are in the best interest of their students and school communities."

From a public health standpoint, during the Lake Cumberland District Health Department's weekly update, LCDHD Executive Director Shawn Crabtree questioned if even a county-by-county approach is the best one during a pandemic.

"People leave our counties every day to work and then people are coming into our counties," Crabtree said, "so the disease is going to spread across county boundaries."

However, Crabtree also explained that communities were demanding local decision-making authority though enforcement will not be up to local health departments.

"We believe that the superintendents and the school boards are well educated people that can look at the information and make an educated decision," Crabtree said.

Crabtree also noted that the state data lags about a couple of days behind what's available on the LCDHD website, which can be found at lcdhd.org.

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