Pulaski school board splits on in-person instruction

Pulaski County Schools Superintendent Patrick Richardson

An attempt to amend the agenda for Tuesday evening's meeting of Pulaski County Board of Education indicated that some members want to resume in-person instruction ahead of the current October 12 target date.

As the meeting opened, Vice Chair Dr. Rebekah Branscum moved to add an item to the regular meeting agenda so that the board could vote on beginning in-person instruction on Wednesday, September 16. Her motion was seconded by Laura Carrigan. With both members voting in favor of adding the item to the agenda, the motion ultimately failed with no votes from Chair Cindy Price, Brandy Daniels and Patricia Edwards.

The board split conversely to approve the agenda as originally presented.

After Governor Andy Beshear recommended last month that Kentucky schools delay in-person classes until September 28, Pulaski County Schools Superintendent Patrick Richardson opted to start the school year virtually on August 24 then allow in-person classes to begin on October 12 after Fall Break.

Meanwhile Science Hill Independent Board of Education voted to keep their initial start date of September 9, while Somerset Independent board members moved in-person instruction up to September 8 after the administration had initially agreed to comply with the September 28 target.

But the Pulaski school board never actually voted on the governor's recommendation. During their August 11 meeting, Supt. Richardson advised board members that Gov. Beshear's decision placed the district in a liability situation that made the recommendation more of a mandate.

"The board of education sets the calendar," Richardson said at the time. "As superintendent, I feel like it's my position to direct instruction.…I'm disappointed to make this decision, to say the least. It's not one that I've made lightly."

On Tuesday, Richardson again addressed the issue of reopening schools.

"We've heard a lot of positive and negatives from parents and community members," Supt. Richardson said of the first 11 days of distance learning. "Our plan isn't perfect. I feel like my staff and the district are trying to do the best they can with the situation they're in. They are learning a lot, and we are tweaking as issues arise to try to make it better for our students.

"And I realize there are still things that are not perfect about the system," he continued. "We're trying to do the best we can in a bad situation."

The district has been getting daily updates regarding COVID-19 cases (either positive or quarantined due to virus exposure) from the Lake Cumberland District Health Department. Supt. Richardson reported that as of Tuesday, 27 students and 11 staff members were impacted. He said that such numbers -- how they fluctuate and could exponentially grow -- are a consideration in his decision for school to stay virtual for a while.

"I don't want the public or you all to think that I am against coming back to school in person," Supt. Richardson told board members. "I would love for us to be back to school in person as soon as possible. I feel like the right thing to do now is to stay the course for a few weeks and see how some of these other districts that are opening work out."

Richardson acknowledged that the decisions of the other two local school districts put pressure on Pulaski to make another decision, but he added that both are much smaller districts.

In other business:

• Supt. Richardson reported that he has met with Southern Middle School's site-based decision-making council to review applications for a new principal. He expects someone to be hired within the next few weeks. Former SMS Principal Brett McQueary began medical leave on August 18, according to the superintendent, and is in the process of retiring.

• The school board recognized Pulaski County FFA (Future Farmers of America), which recently earned national attention for their participation in a July 9 Farmers Feed Families event organized by Prairie Farms. The group distributed 800 cases of dairy products to community families.

• Board members approved a 2020-21 memorandum of agreement for the district's GEAR-UP program.

Recommended for you