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Jessamine schools returning to mostly online learning because of coronavirus

Editor’s note: There was an error in an earlier version of this story about the high schools’ schedule that has been corrected.

Less than a month after Jessamine County public school students returned to their classrooms, the schools are going to be reducing in-person learning because of a high number of students and staff members who have been quarantined because of the coronavirus.

Middle school students have been attending classes five days a week, but beginning Oct. 26, they will be in school only two days a week and learning from home three days. High school students have been in school two days a week, but all of them on the same two days, and they’re going to be divided into two groups that go on different days to reduce by half the number of students in school at one time.

The reason is that contact tracing has proven so great a challenge.

Patrice Jones, a spokesperson for the school district, explained that when a student has been potentially exposed to someone with COVID-19, the schools must identify those who are seated around them in class, in the lunchroom and on buses, and those students also must be quarantined.

According to the latest numbers provided by the district, as of Monday, there were 118 students in quarantine, 96 because of school-related exposure, and the remainder because of exposure from family members or other members of the community. Fifteen staff members also were in quarantine, none as a result of school-related exposure.

Jones said that, to her knowledge, there have been no students or staff who are sick as a result of the virus.

“We have had people who are symptomatic, but no one that I’m aware of who has been really ill,” she said.

“Really, it appears to us that the quarantines are being effective because, to our knowledge, we have not had any person-to-person transmission at school,” Jones said.

That would indicate that “our protocols are effective,” she said.

Jessamine County students began classes online on Aug. 26, and resumed in-person learning on Sept. 28. At that time, about 70 percent of students opted to return to classes and 30 percent to continue virtual instruction only.

Beginning Oct. 26, high school and middle school students whose last names begin with A-K will attend in-person classes on Mondays and Wednesdays, and L-Z students will go to school on Tuesdays and Thursdays. On the days they aren’t in school, they will learn from home. On Fridays, everyone will do online learning.

Elementary and early learning students will continue to attend in-person classes because they don’t move from classroom to classroom and so come in contact with fewer children and teachers.

Superintendent Matt Moore made the decision with the support of school board members, but the board did not vote on it in a special session during which it was discussed, Jones said.

On Tuesday, Jones provided this statement from the superintendent:

“At this point, contact tracing results have shown that we have not had any confirmed positive cases of COVID-19 that were transmitted person to person through school-related activities. I believe that fact demonstrates that our protective protocols and contact tracing and quarantine procedures are working well to keep our students and staff as safe as possible on our campuses.

“We have had a larger number of quarantines related to some positive cases. That is sometimes due to the positive person’s involvement in extracurricular activities, but can also be attributed to a higher number of contacts exposed during daily activities in a school setting. This particularly applies to secondary students who, by the nature of their schedules, change classes, mixing with a larger number of other students. This is the primary reason that we are shifting to an A/B rotation schedule for our secondary students on October 26th. The new schedule will cut the number of students who are in the building at the same time approximately in half, allowing for more separation and distancing.”

A one-hour virtual town hall on the COVID-19 situation was scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 21, at 4:30 p.m. involving Moore, Jessamine County Director of Public Health Randy Gooch and the Health Department’s physician, Dr. Steve Davis.

Jones said the school administration is accepting questions that the three officials will attempt to answer during the meeting on Zoom. Questions may be submitted by email to feedback@jessamine.kyschools.us up to and during the meeting. Officials will answer as many questions as time allows.

Discussion topics will include community health indicators, contact tracing and quarantine procedures, the decision-making factors involved in offering in-person instruction and the secondary level A/B attendance model that will begin Oct. 26.

COVID-19 information about individual schools in Jessamine County’s public schools is available at jessamine.k12.ky.us under the COVID-19 case update report on the home page.

About Randy Patrick

Randy Patrick is a reporter for Bluegrass Newsmedia, which includes The Jessamine Journal. He may be reached at 859-759-0015 or by email at randy.patrick@bluegrassnewsmedia.com.

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