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Education

More Than 1,500 Students Quarantined Across Western Kentucky School Districts

Marshall County High School.jpg
Liam Niemeyer
/
WKMS News
Marshall County High School.

More than 1,500 students across 14 school districts in western Kentucky are in quarantine due to possible COVID-19 exposure as of Thursday.

Coronavirus cases are surging across the area and most regional school districts have held in-person classes for more than a week.

In order to try and slow the spread of the virus, school districts have been placing students and staff who contract COVID — or come in contact with someone who has — in quarantine. Students can still attend class, but remotely.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend quarantines last for 14 days after the last known exposure to someone with COVID-19.

There are at least 500 students and 100 school staff in the area with active coronavirus cases, according to an analysis by WKMS News of data posted on district websites, social media and interviews with school officials on Wednesday and Thursday.

More than 1,200 of the student quarantines are from school districts for Christian, Hopkins, Graves, McCracken and Marshall Counties, the five largest districts in the region.

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Liam Niemeyer

Paducah Public Schools and Caldwell County Schools did not respond to requests for data.

As of Thursday afternoon, Marshall County Schools had 444 students in quarantine, the highest number among districts surveyed in the region. That’s about 10% of the district’s student population of more than 4,000.

Marshall County Health Department data shows the monthly total of minors with COVID-19 in the county has more than quintupled since the beginning of July.

Marshall County Schools Superintendent Steve Miracle said it’s challenging for teachers to coordinate teaching in-person classes while quarantined students learn virtually.

“It's twice the work for [teachers] in trying to kind of manage this,” Miracle said. “We have a lot of moving parts, a lot of things going on. It is a struggle.”

Miracle said he’s worried about the quality of education students receive while learning remotely during quarantine.

He said quarantines of teachers and bus drivers have made it hard for the district to have in-person classes, but the district is not ready to consider moving to all-virtual classes.

“We've not reached a point this week where we have felt like we have to close,” Miracle said. “When the resources are just completely gone, you can no longer do it. That's what would drive us to say, based upon staffing, we can't continue.

Warren County Schools recently warned parents the district might move all classes to virtual learning after it had nearly 1,700 students in quarantine earlier this week. That’s about 10% of the more than 16,000 students in the district.

Miracle said he would like for districts to have more flexibility to use non-traditional instruction (NTI) days, which allow for schools to teach virtually in case of closures.

Earlier in the pandemic, schools were allowed to use an unlimited number of NTI days, but the state legislature limited districts to 10 days of NTI for the upcoming school year.

Marshall County Health Department Director Billy Pitts said the high number of cases in the county and lack of contact tracers makes it difficult to pin down where people are being exposed to the virus.

“Did they get it from their parents? Did they get it from a school mate? Did they get it from a ball team? Did they get it at a slumber party?” Pitts said. “For the health and well-being of the child, that's what worries me the most.”

Marshall County’s coronavirus incidence rate is 104.7 cases per 100,000 people, the highest rate of transmission in the eight-county Purchase region and one of the highest in western Kentucky.

Most districts surveyed by WKMS News have quarantined up to 5% of their student populations, including Dawson Springs Independent Schools. The district is one of the few in the region that required people to wear masks indoors before Gov. Andy Beshear issued a statewide mask mandate for schools last week.

Dawson Springs Independent Schools Superintendent Leonard Whalen said requiring masks early on was the right decision.

“We've got a small staff,” Whalen said. “So, if we end up having a handful of staff out for quarantine and or positive cases, it makes it exceptionally difficult for us to even have school in person.”

The 600-student district has seven students and one staff member in quarantine as of Thursday.

A few small school districts in the region have yet to begin classes, including Crittenden County Schools, Fulton Independent School District and Lyon County Schools.

Crittenden County Schools Superintendent Vince Clark said his district is starting on Aug. 24 to give staff extra time to prepare for the new school year. He said he’s gotten feedback from superintendents who have already begun the school year, allowing the district to craft a virtual learning option.

Clark said he wanted the district to have an optional masking plan before the governor issued his mask mandate.

“Based on what's happened across the state and other districts, they had to pull back on that, and maybe we would have, too,” Clark said. “But we just didn't get the chance to be able to demonstrate what we could do.”

Crittenden County’s rate of COVID-19 spread is classified as “high” by the state, along with most other counties in Kentucky.

Beshear announced 4,836 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, the third highest daily total in the state since the beginning of the pandemic. The statewide test positivity rate is 12.75%, the highest recorded.

In addition to Beshear’s school masking order, the Kentucky Board of Education passed an emergency regulation requiring students, staff and visitors to wear masks in schools for 270 days, unless the board votes to end it early.

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