Planning for the new school year has been tricky, and rising COVID-19 numbers have just thrown school officials another curve ball.
On Monday, Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear asked school districts to consider postponing the start of classes until the third week of August.
The Pulaski County Board of Education briefly met in special session Tuesday to amend their 2020-21 school calendar — opting for a new start date of Monday, August 24, in place of starting school next Wednesday as originally planned.
Likewise, the Somerset Independent Board of Education amended its calendar Tuesday, also giving August 24 as the new first day of classes.
In welcoming board members and apologizing for the short notice, Pulaski County Schools Superintendent Patrick Richardson noted that school officials were first advised of the coming recommendation last Friday.
"I received an email from [Kevin] Brown, the educational commissioner, asking us districts that have an early August start date to consider moving our start date back," Supt. Richardson explained, adding that Gov. Beshear then specifically recommended on Monday a start date past the third week.
In moving the start date but hoping to stick as closely to the original calendar as possible, the district will be switching from a 170-day calendar to 157 days. Supt. Richardson emphasized that it will meet state requirements for 1,062 hours of instruction.
"We just have to make sure that we're getting 405 minutes a day," he added.
Closing Day would be May 6. As of now, Fall and Spring breaks are still on the calendar.
Board member Brandy Daniels asked if the change would ensure that the district has the Chromebooks it has purchased for students when school starts.
"Right now I don't think we know," Supt. Richardson said. "We're hoping we do but we don't have confirmation at this time."
Daniels noted that state officials were recommending a virtual start to classes for any district starting before August 15. "If they don't have the Chromebooks in hand, then that doesn't make sense [to start earlier]," she said.
Supt. Richardson assured the board that the district could start virtual instruction without Chromebooks if necessary, noting that many families already have access to electronic devices but that a plan was being developed to help those who don't.
"It will be much easier if we have our Chromebooks in place before we start virtual learning but it can be done," he said.
Last month, the Pulaski board had voted to allow parents the option of sending their children to school or having them participate in distance learning from home. As of Monday, Richardson reported, some 80 percent of students plan to attend classes in person.
"I've gotten a lot of feedback from the community wanting us to start school," the superintendent said. "I understand that but I also know that right now we have more active cases in our area than we ever had in March when we closed the first time.
Richardson also acknowledged that there have been positive cases reported among staff members. "I would really prefer not to start the school year with a case of COVID already in our buildings," he said.
With the board unanimously approving the revised calendar, chair Cindy Price said, "None of this is anything that we asked for but we have to make the best of it. We have to be positive to our students and our staff."
As for the Somerset Independent District, in addition to the new start date the board decided to remove Fall Break from the schedule. Students will still get a small break around Halloween, as there is no school from October 30 through November 3 (Election Day).
Superintendent Kyle Lively said removing Fall Break achieved two goals. First, it allows the district to get enough instruction days in to hopefully stay on schedule and keep the last day of school as May 14.
Secondly, it also discourages travel during a time in which that could cause COVID-19 to spread. "It cuts down on opportunities for leaving the state and spreading sickness," Lively said.
The new calendar allows for 166 instructional days -- 1,062 hours -- down from the original 175.
Lively, looking at the positives of the situation, said that delaying the start of school "gives us the opportunity to start in-person classes, because I think we all value having kids in the building. But it also allows teachers 10 work days to get some things prepared in case we do have to start out with distance learning."
That is in case all students must start with distance learning. At this time, the district is offering parents a choice of sending their children to attend class in person or have them participate through distance learning. Lively said that any parent who has not informed the district of their decision should contact their child's school.
Like Superintendent Richardson, Lively thanked his board members. "I couldn't imagine going through this with a board that's not supportive, a board that's not understanding. ... You understand the decisions you're making. Your willingness to work and allow us to make changes as needed pretty quickly, I really appreciate that."