COVID-19 might be closing bars and retail businesses, but it’s been a boon for makers of personal protective equipment, masks, and now, equipment and supplies for schools.
Letcher County students aren’t in school, but thanks to the coronavirus, expenses are still climbing, county school Superintendent Denise Yonts said.
Laptops, cleaning supplies, building materials, thermometers, batteries — the list of expenses grows daily, Yonts said last week.
Meanwhile, the number of cases of COVID-19 among children increased 90 percent nationwide over the past four weeks, and Gov. Andy Beshear has asked schools not to go back until at least the end of September.
Jenkins Independent Schools are scheduled to open August 31, with three options for students. They may attend virtual school five days a week using a school-supplied ChromeBook, attend inperson classes two days a week, or attend in-person classes four days a week. Students would attend virtual classes on days they don’t attend in person.
Letcher County students aren’t going back in the classroom for now, but they will be at some time. Yonts said the district is preparing by retrofitting schools to meet social distancing requirements when students do return to the classroom, probably later this fall. When the schools do reopen, they will likely have a schedule similar to Jenkins — two days in in-person classes and three in virtual classes, or five days in virtual classes. Either way, the expenses are piling up, Yonts said.
“The first big expense is we’re buying devices (ChromeBooks) for all the students. That’s a huge expense for us as a school district. Then we have to have masks, all the PPE, hand sanitizer, cleaning products for classrooms,” Yonts said. “We’ve even had to buy dividers to put between sinks and urinals, all those things you really never think about.”
The ChromeBooks alone cost $341,600. Though some of that came from federal CARES Act money, the district had to bear some of the cost. The computers will be used by students working from home, which they will be doing at least for a while, and may be doing again if there is an outbreak in schools.
Letcher County students will be working at home with the ChromeBooks beginning August 26, and the board of education will decide later if it’s safe for them to return to class.
While some parents have expressed concern about students who don’t have Internet access at home, Yonts said those students who don’t have Internet will pick up memory sticks from school with their lessons, and will send those back when they’re finished. Teachers will work at the schools every day on lesson plans, grading assignments and making instructional videos.
The teachers also have to follow guidelines to prevent the spread of the virus when students are not there, as do bus drivers who will deliver lunches to students along regular bus routes until in-person classes resume.
“If I’m in my office working, I can take my mask down, if I leave my office, I have to wear my mask, and that’s the way it will be for our staff,” Yonts said.
The district also has to prepare for returning to school, where bus drivers will be required to take students’ temperatures as they get off at school, and nurses and other staff members will take temperatures if students feel sick. The district will have thermometers on every bus, backups for thermometers that get damaged, and multiple thermometers in every school and every school board building. The district received 85 no-touch forehead thermometers from the state of Kentucky, but bought the others it needs for about $100 each, Yonts said.
And with the thermometers, she said, comes a need for batteries.
“Every time I turn around it’s $6,000,” Yonts said. “You think of one expense and there’s five more to go with it.”
A chink in the armor around the schools may be the buses themselves. Yonts said students won’t have their temperature taken as they get on the bus because of “safety issues.” Instead, their temperatures will be taken before they get off at school. The schools are depending on social distancing and masks on buses because of having fewer than half the students they normally have.
Yonts said about 40 percent of students have chosen virtual classes even when schools reopen, and 60 percent have chosen in-person classes. That means with the twoday “A/B” schedule about 30 percent of the students who normally ride buses will be riding on any given day.