Students in Fayette County Public Schools will be required to wear masks inside schools when classes start on Aug. 11, according to new Superintendent Demetrus Liggins.
The decision mirrors recommendations from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Gov. Andy Beshear and Lexington-Fayette Public Health Commissioner Kraig Humbaugh as COVID cases increase amid the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant.
The district will require masks for all employees and students in grades K through 12, contractors, and visitors — regardless of immunization status — on school buses and inside district facilities.
Students and staff may lower their masks while actively eating or drinking, a document for parents said. Students may remove masks outdoors on campus as long as they remain in their cohort group and maintain social distancing to the best of their abilities. Employees may remove masks outdoors on campus as long as they are physically distanced. Fully vaccinated employees may remove masks indoors when students are not present.
The district will require physical distancing of at least 3 feet to the greatest extent possible indoors and 6 feet outdoors and in other settings where masks are not worn.
In general, district officials said Fayette County Public Schools will welcome students and staff back to campus for the 2021-22 school year with layers of precautionary measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and reduce interruptions to in-person learning.
“Our district believes students learn best when they can experience the joys and advantages of being together on campus with classmates and caring adults,” Liggins said in a statement. “The past year has proven that our district can safely provide in-person instruction and minimize the potential spread of COVID-19 when proper precautions — including layers of prevention strategies — are implemented with fidelity.”
The district will have an emphasis on handwashing and healthy habits, enhanced cleaning and sanitization protocols, daily health screenings by families and employees and strict adherence to contact tracing and quarantine protocols if students or staff members test positive for COVID-19.
All staff are required to sign and return an “Employee Assurance of Personal Health Agreement” and complete a daily health screening at home in accordance with district procedures.
Families will sign and return a “Family Assurance of Student Health Agreement” attesting that they will monitor their children’s health each day, not send them to school if they are experiencing any symptoms of COVID-19, and make arrangements to pick them up at schools should they fall ill during the day.
If students are required to quarantine, Liggins said, schools will work with their families to ensure they continue to receive instruction. Based on recommendations from the local health department, students and employees who are fully vaccinated or have had COVID-19 within the past 90 days will not have to quarantine.
Liggins acknowledged that the acceleration of new COVID-19 cases fueled by the onset of the Delta variant was a major consideration for district leaders. Other concerns were low vaccination rates among 12- to 17-year-olds and the lack of an approved vaccine for children younger than 12. “We will continue to monitor these conditions and update our protocols as they change or state and national guidance is updated,” he said.
“We believe all of these precautions will work in concert to make our schools safe places where students and staff can otherwise resume normal activities. We look forward to the return of orientations, open houses, family nights, field trips, after-school clubs, and school performances,” Liggins said. “Visitors and volunteers providing educational or therapeutic services will once again be welcomed on campus. ”
Penny Christian, immediate past president of the 16th District PTA that includes Fayette County, said she thinks Liggins made the right decision.
“It is probably the only way we will be able to keep our kids in school. I think the kids are responding better to the mask mandate than a lot of the adults,” Christian said.
Todd Burus, a leader in the Facebook group Let them Learn in Fayette County, said in a post Tuesday that “ we respect their decisions and know this is a difficult time to be considering the procedures for returning to school.“
“We respect Fayette County Public Schools decision on guidance for Fall 2021 and look forward to having a successful school year,” Burus told the Herald-Leader. “We hope that there is a commitment to consistent and equitable quarantine procedures and that every effort is made to establish off-ramps for mitigation strategies as the situation surrounding COVID in our community improves.“
Beshear said Monday that “our recommendation is as clear as it can be: school systems should mandate universal masking.”
“Every public health official is telling every Kentucky school system that they need universal masking and some school systems are saying no. That means they are doing it in contradiction of all public health advice,” he said.