LOUISVILLE, Ky. — With students and teachers in Kentucky getting ready to head back to school in the next few weeks, there are still a lot of questions surrounding what in-person learning will look like this upcoming school year as the state continues to grapple with the coronavirus pandemic.
The Kentucky Department of Education has issued new guidance for school districts ahead of the new school year that covers several different areas, including vaccinations, mask policies and distancing recommendations, which are in line with the latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
"That is objective number one on our jobs is to keep our kids safe and healthy so that they can thrive and learn," Tammy Berlin, a teacher at Atherton High School and the vice president of the Jefferson County Teachers Association, said.
According to the new guidance, masks are recommended for people who are unvaccinated indoors. Masks should be required for everyone, regardless of vaccination status, while on public transportation, like school buses. And masks are generally not required outside. The guidance does add that universal use of masks could be recommended based on several factors, including whether a large portion of the population is still ineligible for vaccinations, like elementary schools, or high COVID-19 transmission in the community.
"I know at my school, it was really a non-issue," Berlin said. "I did not hear a whole lot of comments from teachers saying we just can't get these kids to follow the mask mandate."
KDE is also recommending students and staff continue to practice physical distancing. It recommends at least 3 feet of separation in classrooms where not everyone is fully vaccinated and 6 feet of separation between students and staff and between unvaccinated staff.
It also recommends school districts continue to promote vaccinations for everyone eligible to receive one, which at the moment is everyone 12 years of age and older.
For Berlin and other teachers, they are ready to get back into the classroom after a year and a half of virtual learning.
"It did my soul good to be with my kids. It was so good to be with them again after a year," she said.
This Sunday, JCPS issued its mask guidance for the next few weeks before the upcoming school year, requiring unvaccinated people wear masks inside school buildings. The JCPS Board of Education is expected to vote on its mask requirement for the upcoming school year on July 27. Berlin said JCTA representations will likely work with district leaders ahead of any official guidance.