FRANKFORT, Ky. — Kentucky school districts will be given the flexibility to use both traditional and non-traditional instruction for the upcoming school year, Interim Commissioner Kevin Brown said.
Districts will be able to use unlimited NTI days if cases spike or Kentucky officials recommend schools close. Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman said Kentucky will also suspend attendance rules, ensuring districts will still get funding if they split between NTI and in-person instruction.
Social distancing will be required during traditional instruction, which could result in smaller class sizes. Brown said there are exceptions for districts that are unable to ensure students are six feet apart.
Districts that cannot make sure all students are six feet apart should require students wear a mask. Students who can be spread apart in the classroom should still be required to wear a mask in heavily populated areas like hallways or buses.
"If a student is moving, they need to have a mask on," Brown said. "If they're less than six feet [apart], they need to have a mask on."
Brown said students should be spread out on buses, though said districts that cannot practice social distancing on buses can still run only one route as long as parents ensure their child does not have a temperature over 100.4 and students wear a mask.
Masks will be optional for kindergartners, but required for all older students.
"Unfortunately, wearing a mask has become a divisive issue in our Commonwealth and in our country," Brown said. "but we're going to need everybody in all of our communities to help our schools out."
Coleman said the requirement will protect both students and staff. The lieutenant governor also compared masks to a dress code, saying any parents or students who do not want to wear masks should know that "wearing a mask is much more comfortable than wearing a respirator."
Brown said the state does expect districts to provide PPE, but said students can bring their own masks. Gov. Andy Beshear said clothed masks "are just fine" for students.
Districts should also track students' contacts through seating charts or other records to make sure officials can trace COVID-19 if there is a positive case.
Coleman also announced the expanded care program will bring more services like school nurses and mental health professionals to Kentucky schools with a federal match. The lieutenant governor called on the federal government to provide additional funding to help schools safely reopen.
"The way schools have been funded in the past must evolve with these new educational practices and expectations," Coleman said.
Jefferson County Public Schools previously told parents they were continuing to work on a plan for the 2020-21 school year, saying they hope to make final decisions in mid-July.
JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio is expected to discuss the district's plans Thursday at 2 p.m.
Oldham County Schools also told parents their goal remains to reopen schools August 12, however said they too were still reviewing the state's guidelines.
In Indiana, districts were given options for how to best reopen. Schools were similarly encouraged to require masks, assigned seats and social distancing. State Health Commissioner Dr. Kristina Box said these requirements should not only be used inside the schools, but on buses.
This story will be updated.