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Green County follows plan, pulls back on in-person

Green County Schools

Kentucky School Advocate
September 2020

By Brenna R. Kelly
Staff writer

On Aug. 17 Green County Schools became the first district in the state to welcome students back to the classroom – six weeks before Gov. Andy Beshear’s recommended start date.

When the district moved to all virtual instruction after just five days, some thought coronavirus cases must have spread in the districts’ four schools.

But Superintendent Will Hodges said the quick switch to online had nothing to do with cases in the schools – it was all part of the district’s back-to-school plan.

The plan, which the district developed with input of both public and private health officials, included a metric designed to determine when to open and close to in-person instruction.

“I always wondered, is this metric going to be accurate. And after that first week, we got to Friday and the metric said that we needed to be out,” he said. “The feeling of the community said we needed to be out. So, it has proven to be a true measure for us.”

The district uses a three-light system for opening based on an active case index. By the fourth day of school, the index was about to reach the red-light level. The index was created by using relevant positive cases in the community divided by the county’s population then multiplied by 10,000 to create an active case index. For example, positive cases or residents in a long-term facility are not included, but positive cases of long-term care facility workers are.

After the board decided not to abide by the governor’s request, Hodges said he spoke with Interim Commissioner Kevin Brown and Deputy Public Health Commissioner Connie White who both urged the district to delay in-person instruction, but said they would support the district in any way they could.

“There wasn’t anything negative about that call,” Hodges said. “I told them, ‘Look, you’re not going to have to tell us to stop, the health department’s not going to have to tell us to stop. We feel confident in this metric. And when it's time to pull back, we’ll pull back’ and we did.”

The district was set to resume in-person instruction on Sept. 17 after its active case index dipped down into the yellow level. The county had 234 total coronavirus cases as of Sept. 15 and remained a “red” county which is classified as among counties with the highest per capita cases in the state, according to the state’s coronavirus dashboard.“Our community’s very understanding, very patient,” he said. “They wanted to be back, but at the same time, they know where we’re at right now with the different outbreaks happening.”

When the district opened its doors on Aug. 17, officials knew they likely had a limited window for in-person instruction, Hodges said.

“We knew if we could get a week in, two weeks in, then it would be so much easier to transition to virtual and then come back later,” he said, noting that students could have the opportunity to form relationships with their teachers and learn how to access the tools for online learning.

Hodges said the district didn’t experience any problems during its five days of in-person classes. When the district moved online, it had only one positive case – a staff member.

“Our metric is proactive,” he said. “I think it stops it before it becomes an issue within our schools. When we go back, I think everybody’s going to have student cases and staff cases, but we have a proactive approach to stop the problem before it becomes a problem.”

For districts that will be starting in person after Sept. 28, Hodges said he’s learned how important it is to protocols at all times. Because his staff followed the guidelines when the teacher who was also a coach tested positive, no one else in the school had to quarantine.

“Over time, human beings have a tendency to become lax in what you’re doing, so we just really stressed that every single day, follow these procedures, follow your protocols,” he said. “Because that's going to make the difference in whether you can continue with this in person model.”

Even with the district’s plan in place and all the protocols and mitigation strategies including handwashing, masks, and social distancing, Hodges said that everyone – parents, staff and students – were a little nervous and anxious on the first day of school.

“Any school or any district that hasn’t started is going to feel that way too,” Hodges said. “But I can give them calm, that if you follow your plan, follow your procedures and protocols, the kids are going to be excited, the families are going to be excited. It can work.”

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