Whitesburg KY
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About 1/3 of Letcher students back in class

The Letcher County School District returned more students to the classroom this week as the incidence of COVID-19 has continued to fall.

The incidence rate on Monday, when more students returned to class, was 6.0, the lowest in nearly a year. This puts Letcher County firmly in the yellow area on state maps meant to be used as guidance for schools and others for how to address the pandemic. Of the surrounding counties, only Perry was still in yellow Tuesday.

Superintendent Denise Yonts said the return to the classroom is voluntary for students who are still on virtual learning at home.

“We’re still on the hybrid model, we just allowed the ones that were on virtual come back if they wanted to,” Yonts said.

The model allows half of students attending in-person classes to be in school on Mondays and Wednesdays and half on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Fridays will be all virtual.

She said 1,100 students were already back in the classroom, about a third of the district’s enrollment. Another 250 have said they plan to return this week.

Fewer than half of students will be back after they return.

“I would expect us to have 35 or 40 percent,” she said.

Yonts told the Board of Education last week that if the numbers continue to fall, school may step up to a four-day-per-week schedule .

Governor Andy Beshear issued an executive order at the end of February encouraging districts to return to in-person instruction of some type at the first of March. He did not make it mandatory, saying it was a local decision. If all staff was vaccinated, he urged a return to classrooms seven days after the second dose.

The Letcher County District and Jenkins Independent District had already returned to classrooms under hybrid schedules when the order was issued. About 75 percent of district employees chose to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, with the second dose administered March 4 and 5.

But while Beshear did not mandate the return to classrooms, he signed a bill passed by the state legislature last week that requires in-person instruction no later than March 29. The bill passed the House February 24, and the Senate substituted new language before it passed that chamber on March 3. The House agreed with the change and sent it to the governor, who signed it the following day.

Now law, the bill requires that schools offer students at least 80 percent of their instructional time in-person, and requires at least 40 percent of instructional time be in-person. It still requires virtual learning if parents request it in writing.

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