Kentucky School Advocate
By Brenna R. Kelly
With most K-12 school personnel fully vaccinated and coronavirus cases falling across the state, Kentucky public schools have begun to resume somewhat normal operations.
Masks, social distancing and handwashing will continue to be a part of this school year, but by March 17 all of Kentucky’s 171 school districts had resumed in-person classes. The final restart, in Jefferson County Schools, came one year and one day after Kentucky public schools first ceased in-person instruction due to the spreading coronavirus.
“It’s been a long journey getting our kids back in the classroom,” said Superintendent Marty Pollio said at the close of the first day back. “Today was very special, it gets emotional when you see kids walking into our school buildings. You could feel the excitement in every classroom you went in.”
While Jefferson County and a few other districts continued using a hybrid schedule through March, by the end of March, 155 of 171 Kentucky public districts were holding in-person instruction for all students four or five days a week. At least six more districts planned to resume that level of in-person instruction in early April after Spring Break.
In addition to falling cases, new guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) that allowed fully vaccinated people to avoid quarantine if exposed to the virus, alleviate the fear that districts would have to close schools because too many staff were quarantined.
Grayson County Schools resumed five-day-a-week instruction for all students on March 22.
“It’s been a long road, but with a vastly improved community health climate, updated CDC reopening guidelines, and our second round of staff vaccines now completed, we’re looking at the hope of a somewhat more ‘normal’ school year moving forward,” Superintendent Doug Robinson said in a letter to parents before the restart.
Robinson noted that 6-feet of distance would be a challenge, but that the district would “strive for six feet of distancing to the greatest extent possible.”
Then just days before the Grayson and 16 other districts resumed in-person instruction for all students four or five days a week, the CDC relaxed its guidance to say that students could be spaced 3 feet apart in classrooms as long as masks are worn.
While many factors made it easier for schools to begin operating more normally, districts still faced challenges. Many districts across the state continue to face a shortage of bus drivers.“They’re almost like liquid gold,” said Robertson County Superintendent Sanford Holbrook, who is driving one of his district’s buses every day so that students could be in school four days a week. During his tenure as superintendent, Holbrook has served as a backup driver, but when one of the district’s drivers left and the district needed to add a route to reduce the number of students per bus, he got a promotion to full-time driver.
Every morning Holbrook starts his route at 6:30 a.m. and climbs on the bus again at 3:15 in the afternoon.
“I walk out of my office and go straight to the bus,” he said. “I usually wear a shirt and tie and sports jacket, the first day I drove I had on a three-piece suit and one of bus drivers said, ‘Mr. Holbrook, you’re showing us up, I don’t think these kids are used to having a driver with a three-piece suit on.’”
Filling bus driver jobs wasn’t easy before the pandemic, but it’s even harder now, he said.
“It’s a little bit slower process now getting the kids in because you got to wait to check the temperature and you’ve got to organize the seats with a seating chart to know where everybody is,” he said. “So, it’s definitely a little bit tougher than it was before.”
Driving the bus is small price to pay for getting students in the classroom, Holbrook said.
“I want my kids back in school,” he said. “So, I told the board. If it takes me driving a bus to help us get back in, I’m willing to do it because I really think they need to be here.”