Rising rates of COVID-19 in Letcher County have prompted the Letcher County Board of Education to change its plans for starting school.
The board voted on Monday night to approve a recommendation by Superintendent Denise Yonts to hold classes entirely online for at least the first six weeks of the school year. The virtual classes will begin August 26.
Previously, Yonts had planned to recommend an “A/B” schedule with some students attending on Mondays and Wednesdays and others on Tuesdays and Thursday, as well as an option for parents to choose to have their children attend virtual classes.
Yonts said Gov. Andy Beshear recommended on Monday that schools planning to go back before the third week of August delay opening, and she said the recent surge in coronavirus cases in Letcher County convinced her it was not safe to hold in person classes.
“We’ve had a surge in the last week here locally. It seems to be spreading and just hitting us here,” she said. “In talking to the health department and looking at those local numbers, I think it’s safest at this time to start all virtual.”
The number of cases increased by 10 in the week before the board meeting, reaching a total of 38 by the time of the meeting. The number continued to rise on Tuesday.
Yonts said the district has already ordered Chromebook computers for all the schools in the district, and has made plans for using Google Classroom, and a common learning management system that will be used by all students, from the earliest grade school students to high school seniors. That will allow students to log into classroom activities and access assistance the same way no matter what grade they are in.
Yont said she hopes the commonalities will make it easier for parents who have children in more than one school.
“It won’t be without obstacles, but I feel like we are much better prepared to engage all our students virtually,” Yonts told the board.
While she said she hopes that students will be able to return to a normal classroom before fall is out, Yonts said the district is trying to make decisions that protect students and staff.
“Health and safety comes first,” she said.
The district surveyed families and about 60 percent in the county wanted a return to the physical classroom, Yonts said. The district had been proceeding under the assumption that would happen until numbers of COVID-19 cases started increasing.
In answer to questions from board member Robert Kiser, Yonts said the district will use bus drivers to transport food to students’ homes and fulfill their contracts with the district.
Kiser also questioned what is being done to address the fact that many students don’t have access to Internet at home. Yonts said their lessons will be placed on memory sticks and sent home.
“They can do all their work on a computer without Internet,” Yonts said.
Yonts also said the state is allowing districts that start after August 23 to hold only 153 days of classes, but students will spend a slightly more time in school each day.