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Christian Co. Superintendent Sticking With In-Person Classes Amid Serious COVID-19 Spread

KY Dept. For Public Health

Christian County Schools Superintendent Chris Bentzel said he was not surprised to see Christian County advance this week into a “critical” coronavirus level that local and state health officials believe warrants closing schools to in-person instruction. But he maintains students are better off in the classroom and said the school system is actually helping slow the spread of COVID-19 in the community.

“I think you have to use a commonsense, overall, comprehensive approach,” Bentzel said Tuesday in a teleconference with local news media. “Now that we are in the red, we are going to be more diligent as far as looking at where positive cases come from.”

On Monday, the superintendent released a statement outlining his reasons for keeping schools in session and said the district plans to keep schools open until fall break.

However, Christian County Health Director Kayla Bebout told Hoptown Chronicle that it’s important to recognize that the guidance on when to go to remote learning only comes from both the Kentucky Department of Public Health and the Kentucky Department of Education.

“We did give them a head’s up we were headed toward the critical level, which we saw came out (Tuesday) and at the same time we recommended that they follow the matrix as put out by the Department of Public Health and the Department of Education,” Bebout said.

Christian County’s incidence rate on Tuesday was 24.9. It’s the first time in six days the measurement has dipped below 25 — the “critical” threshold at which state guidance recommends switching to remote instruction only.

According to the state’s COVID-19 case count, Christian County is among the counties with the highest rate of community transmission in Kentucky. (Readers may notice that the state’s count for Christian County is different from the incidence rate reported by Hoptown Chronicle. Because state reports typically lag behind, Hoptown Chronicle uses the Christian County Health Department’s daily reports to provide readers with the most current information available.)

Last week, the Kentucky Department of Public Health and the Kentucky Department of Education issued new guidance to help school district determine when they should have remote learning only. It is presented as a four-part, color-coded chart. The rates are meant to describe the spread of coronavirus in the entire community.

Bentzel acknowledged that County Health Director Kayla Bebout advised against reopening schools on Sept. 8 and that the health department also called for schools to switch to remote learning if the county’s incidence rate went into the red level. 

The state’s guidance applies when Kentucky’s positivity rate is below 6%. (It was 4.5% Tuesday.) If the positivity rate exceeds 6%, state officials have indicated local districts would be required to halt in-person instruction. 

“The health department’s job is to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. They’ve said that to us countless times. It’s very hard to stop. It’s even very hard to slow down. It’s almost impossible to completely eliminate,” Bentzel said. “So you have to control the spread and mitigate it. That’s what I’ve been told by the health department, and I believe they are doing a great job of doing that. In return, our job as partners with the health department, if we have in-person classes, is to mitigate the spread in our buildings. I think we have developed a really good comprehensive plan.”

The district cannot keep students safe, though, if it doesn’t have a way to teach them, he said. Under the plan approved by the school board on a 4-to-1 vote early this month, elementary school students are in class five days a week and middle and high school students go to school two days a week and do virtual learning from home the other days.

The nature of kids, especially teenagers, means “they would be out in uncontrolled environments doing uncontrolled things because there’s no one there to supervise them because parents are working or because they are teenagers and they are being social,” he said. 

As of Tuesday, there were 21 active COVID-19 cases among students attending school in-person and five among students staying home to take classes through the Virtual Learning Academy, according to the district’s coronavirus report. Two staff members in the district were positive for COVID-19. 

The active cases included: one staff member at the central office; one student at Christian County High; one student at Christian County Middle; eight students at Hopkinsville High; three students at Hopkinsville Middle; three students at Indian Hills Elementary; three students are Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary; two students are Pembroke Elementary; and one staff member at South Christian Elementary.

There were 92 students and three staff who were quarantined as a result of being a close contact of someone with COVID-19 in a school, the district reported.

(This story has been updated to include comments from County Health Director Kayla Bebout.)

This story was originally published by the Hoptown Chronicle. 

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