Science Hill School is going back to square one, as far as masks are concerned.
Much as the single-facility district in northern Pulaski had intended prior to the start of the school year, Science Hill will be going to a mask-optional policy for students.
The Science Hill Board of Education on Tuesday unanimously approved a COVID-19 operations plan stating that "parents will choose whether they want their child(ren) to wear a mask while at school."
Parents are asked to complete an online or paper form to indicate their decision on masking their child. Teachers will be provided with this information and will let parents know through regular communication methods if the child is not following parental guidelines. Failure to wear a mask for a child whose parent has indicated that preference will not be a discipline issue within the school, but rather the parent will be notified and asked to correct the issue at home or change the masking form preference.
"This almost mirrors on what we had planned on starting (2021-22) with," said Science Hill Superintendent Jimmy Dyehouse. "The only difference you're going to see on there is the quarantine (policy)."
If there's a positive COVID case inside the school building, the school can handle that as they best see fit.
"We're smaller, we're in one building and we can keep an eye on the kids who would normally be quarantined," said Dyehouse. "Say you have a positive case in a Fifth Grade classroom. Four kids sit near them all day. Those four kids, with the health department, would have to go home for 10 days. (With this policy), we're going to call their parents, the ones that are a possible exposure, and tell them, 'Your student could possibly have been exposed to a positive COVID case so we want to let you know. We need you to help us at home. If your child has no symptoms whatsoever in the morning, send them back to school. Make sure you check their temperature.' We're also going to check them when they get here. ... We'll do that for five days in a row."
Vaccinated students will not need to quarantine. A student who tests positive for COVID-19 will quarantine for 10 days, and must have a negative test result after 10 days to return to school. If a child with a household family member tests positive, they must quarantine for 10 days, and documentation of a positive test and required quarantine must be submitted to the school in order for days to be excused. This can be a call from the health department or a doctor's statement. This student can return to class with no symptoms after 10 days or return after seven days if they test negative after the fifth day. In-office and at-home test results are accepted, and the school medical van also offers testing if scheduled in advance.
The masking policy also applies to the school's employees. Unvaccinated staff are encouraged to wear masks but it's up to them, said Dyehouse, who noted that 85 percent of the school's staff is vaccinated.
The new policy goes into effect on Monday, September 20.
Science Hill was prepared to roll into the school year with an optional masking policy but Gov. Andy Beshear's eleventh-hour mandate for schools just before school was set to start was a source of frustration, so much so that Dyehouse's call to inform parents of the change referred to the governor as a "liberal lunatic" which made statewide news.
But following the recent special session of the Kentucky State Legislature, control of mask policy decisions was returned to the local level, and Dyehouse is pleased for his district to again make decisions that fit it rather than those that may benefit other, larger districts.
"Parents know what's best for their child," said Dyehouse. "That's how we felt and how the board felt. A parent knows their child much better than I do, much better than the state does, or any other entity out there. So we want to leave that in the parents' hands and say, 'If you feel like your child needs to wear a mask and they're safer with a mask on, by all means, wear a mask. If not, you can have your child here with no mask at all.'"