Mask wearing not mandatory for students and staff in Butler County Schools
With the start of the 2021-22 school year right around the corner, face masks will be optional for students and staff. Superintendent Robert Tuck announced that decision earlier this week in an interview with Beech Tree News. The news comes amid an uptick in COVID-19 cases (Delta variant) in some areas of the state and following a press conference by Governor Andy Beshear that strongly advised Kentucky school districts to mandate mask wearing in schools regardless of vaccination status. Butler County’s decision to make mask-wearing optional is in line with what many other districts are doing around the state. However, the state’s largest public school district - Jefferson County - announced this week that they would be imposing a mask mandate when classes resume.
“Currently, the guidance issued from the state and federal level are recommendations with decision making left to local control and local decision making. Therefore, Butler County Schools is going to encourage those who are not vaccinated to wear a mask, but mask wearing will not be mandatory,” said Supt. Tuck. “Anyone else who chooses to wear a mask is more than welcome to do so.”
Guidance as it relates to COVID-19 protocols appear to be a moving target as recommendations/mandates change often.
“As the CDC, Kentucky Department of Public Health, Barren River District Health Department, and the Governor’s office present further guidance, we will re-evaluate our Return to School Guidance which may include further mitigation efforts,” said Tuck. “This may include, but is not limited to, increased wearing of masks, temperature checks, increased social distancing, and other mitigation strategies as directed by the above agencies.”
Regarding the wearing of face masks on buses, there appears to be some confusion on the matter. Federal officials, along with some degree of cooperation from the state, are suggesting that school buses are “public transportation,” thus masks are to be worn at all times. However, the enforcement mechanism of that regulation is unclear.
“The state is trying to push masking as a CDC requirement on buses but conversely is saying don't punish those that don't wear masks. With this information, until things change and also taking into consideration factors such as the heat index, we are recommending mask wearing but we are not going to require it at this time,” said Supt. Tuck. “However, this is a debated issue so we are trying to stay basic with our communication and with the fluidity of this situation, we will need to adapt as more information becomes available.”
An additional area that may cause some conflicts for school officials and parents is that pre-COVID rules as it pertains to attendance and NTI (non-traditional instruction) are now in place. This means that school districts currently will not have the same degree of flexibility when it comes to scheduling and school attendance.
Butler County Schools will have a virtual option for middle and high school students. The deadline to apply for that option is July 31 but school principals will have to approve those requests. There is no virtual option for elementary students.
“The state is having us play by the rules of a pre-COVID normal year in regards to attendance, NTI flexibility, and Home Hospital at this time. Just 10 NTI days may be used,” said Tuck. “
If COVID numbers continue to rise and in-person instruction is paused temporarily, Tuck said the district has plans in place to make that adjustment.
“If, as we see this situation develop and if the state allows more flexibility with the use of virtual options in our school format and allows more NTI days, we will utilize Google Classroom as a delivery model for students who are moved to virtual, such as we are doing with our NTI days currently. Again, that’s only if we have to go down that road. At this point there is nothing to say we will or are going down that road.”
Tuck continued, “This will allow for a more seamless transition for students and teachers due to the familiarity with the platform and the ability to change on the fly as needed. We are also awaiting further guidance on home hospital applications for students and we are awaiting on state guidelines and rules for students who are placed on quarantine in order to define what specifications we must follow as a district.”
Kentucky Education Commissioner Jason Glass told reporters on Wednesday that guidance for schools could change based on the most recent recommendations announced by the CDC.