Laura Keener, Editor.
Before the last school bell rang, closing the 2020–21 school year, teachers, parents and even news reporters were already asking, “What are the COVID-19 protocols going to be for next year?”
It has taken awhile for the necessary information to come forward so that Kendra McGuire, superintendent of Schools and the diocesan COVID Task Force could answer that question. First, in May, nobody could readily predict how, in August, the virus might be moving in communities. Also, information on how effective vaccines would be, especially against variants of the virus, was just beginning to be collected and continues to develop. Most importantly, guidance from the Kentucky Department of Health (KDH) and the Northern Kentucky Health Department (NKHD) had not yet been released for the upcoming school year.
But now August is upon us, schools are about to open and protocols have been developed. In a letter to parents, that was emailed to principals July 27, Mrs. McGuire released the COVID-19 Return to School Requirements 2021–2022. These protocols were developed based on the guidance released July 14 from the KDH and after communication with the NKHD.
“We have put in place safety protocols to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 as this virus continues to be present in our local community,” Mrs. McGuire said in the letter. “All our school operations and activities will return to normal with these safety protocols in place.”
The new protocols also incorporate the diocese’s own experience from providing in-person instruction throughout the entire school year last year — when COVID cases were high, vaccines were a hope and the entire world was learning together how to maintain those things in life which are a priority while mitigating the spread of the virus.
“While we are again starting the year with some uncertainties, we remain confident with what we have learned so far in mitigating the spread of the virus,” Mrs. McGuire said.
Highlights from this year’s protocols include:
— Non-traditional instruction or remote learning will only be available to students that are in quarantine. All other students will return to the classroom for in-person instruction.
“What we learned last year is that the best we can do virtually is not really good enough; it’s not the best we could offer,” Mrs. McGuire said in an interview about the 2020–2021 school year. “So the goal had to be getting the students in school; it had to be in person. School is so much more than just studying by yourself and reading a book or completing a paper online — there’s so much more in the interactions in school, which are all part of that big educational piece.”
— Masks will be optional, except on buses where the state of Kentucky requires masks to be worn. Those who choose to wear a mask will be supported and encouraged to do so.
— Families are encouraged to discuss with their doctor if getting the COVID-19 vaccine is best for them and their child(ren); the COVID-19 vaccine will not be required for students, faculty or staff.
It’s important to note that, in collaborating with St. Elizabeth Healthcare in February 2021, it is estimated that over 90 percent of the administration, faculty and staff in diocesan schools are fully vaccinated. Additionally, unlike unvaccinated persons, vaccinated persons are not required to quarantine when exposed to the virus and are determined to be a close contact if they are symptom-free.
— Three-feet spacing between students is recommended in classrooms and the cafeteria.
— High schools and high school athletes must follow the KHSAA guidelines.
— Employees, students and volunteers should complete a daily personal health assessment before leaving for school each day. Anyone exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 should not come to school and should contact their doctor.
“As parents, your support will be one of the most important factors in preventing the spread of COVID-19 and other illnesses in our schools,” Mrs. McGuire said in the letter to parents. “If your child is exhibiting illness symptoms, you must keep them home and work with your doctor to determine what the illness is and when it will be safe to return to school.”
Mrs. McGuire said that schools will continue to track COVID-19 cases and principals will report cases to the diocese. Right now, the NKHD and KDH are not requiring that schools or the diocese report individual cases. Cases of five or more that are linked by interaction or an event are required to be reported to the NKHD.
“This will help us to determine whether or not additional measures need to be taken to further prevent or slow the spread of COVID-19,” said Mrs. McGuire. “In order to do this, parents must report COVID-19 positive cases to the school immediately.”
A large part of last year’s success in keeping children in school while also mitigating the spread of the virus can be attributed to the overwhelming cooperation of parents, even when it meant that their child would miss out on important personal milestones.
“Throughout the 2020–21 school year, we made changes to procedures based on our data,” Mrs. McGuire said. “We will continue to monitor this again and make changes as necessary to maintain inperson learning.”
As the school year begins, “In all things we place our trust in God,” Mrs. McGuire said. “I ask you to pray for another successful school year and ask God’s protection for the health and safety of our students, staff, families and volunteers who will be part of our school communities this year.”
Mrs. McGuire’s letter and the COVID-19 Return to School Requirements 2021–2022 School Year are available online at www.covdio.org.