Richardson recommends to school board

Pulaski County Schools Superintendent Patrick Richardson, second from left, advised school board members of his recommendation to keep the district’s mask requirement in place until state health officials update COVID-19 guidance.

The Pulaski County Board of Education voted Tuesday evening to keep the district’s mask mandate in place, at least for now.

The vote came after an hour-long executive session taken, according to board attorney Larry Bryson, to discuss personnel and potential litigation.

Upon reconvening in open session, the board first voted to award Superintendent Patrick Richardson a new four-year contract to go into effect with the next school year on July 1, 2022.

After thanking the board for their vote of confidence, Supt. Richardson then began to address the issue of masks in schools. With the Kentucky legislature recently voting in special session to do away with statewide mandates with Senate Bill 1, the current one in place from the Kentucky Board of Education is set to expire this Thursday. Supt. Richardson explained to those left in attendance that while legislators gave school districts five days to make a decision regarding the issue, the Kentucky Department of Public Health has 14 days to update their COVID-19 guidance.

“We’re living in times that don’t make these decisions easy,” Richardson said. “I know that the goal of the board of education is to keep students safe as possible and also keep us in in-person instruction.” 

The district’s current COVID-19 operation plan, which is still required by SB 1, requires masks for students, staff and visitors inside school facilities. To change it or develop a new plan, Supt. Richardson said it would have to be sent to the Kentucky Department of Education for approval. He noted that the new state guidance would likely impact quarantining and contact tracing when masks aren’t worn.

“We really don’t know what the new rules are,” Richardson said, adding his recommendation that the board maintain the district’s current policy “until we receive that new and updated guidance from the Kentucky Department of Health for unmasked classrooms and also test the state protocol that going to be used.”

The superintendent continued that the district would then have the opportunity to develop its plan with a matrix involving the number of positive cases in schools, attendance rates and other data.

The recommendation was approved unanimously on a motion from member Patricia Edwards and second from vice-chair Dr. Rebekah Branscum.

As with the August meeting, which occurred just an hour after Governor Andy Beshear instituted a new mask order and saw pushback from several parents in attendance, Tuesday’s meeting did have school resource officers on hand. However, there were fewer citizens attending on Tuesday and all but two left before the board returned from executive session.

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