Megan McGregor, like most parents, has concerns about the upcoming school year.

A local nurse and parent to a rising West Hopkins School second-grader, McGregor said she understands and supports the district, which has been mandated by the state that all students 6-years-old and older wear masks when social distancing is not an option.

However, McGregor is considering Hopkins County School’s new remote learning program.

“I’m considering their remote online option, at least,” she said. “I work three 12s (12-hour shifts at work). I’m considering just working weekends, so during the week, I could be available for the remote learning.”

On a Facebook post published by The Messenger regarding the new mandates, many people posted that they were not in favor of the new guidance for students to wear face coverings. Concerns raised included students with preexisting conditions, such as asthma.

Hopkins County Schools Supt. Dr. Deanna Ashby announced the online option during Wednesday’s Madisonville and Hopkins County Facebook live update regarding the local impact of the coronavirus. The program is an alternative to the traditional school setting for families who have concerns about COVID-19.

“The remote learning program will allow students to receive instruction at home through a blended learning model using various virtual platforms,” Ashby said. “Each day, students will participate in six instructional hours through a combination of online learning and project-based learning while at home.”

After hearing about four children who contracted COVID-19 this past week from the Hopkins County Health Department, McGregor said she is concerned about the virus not going away anytime soon.

“It just seems like it is going to be difficult for schools to be able to do the social distancing,” she said. “I used to be a substitute teacher, and I substituted kindergarten classes that had like 30 kids. There’s not a way to have them six feet apart.”

Ashby said they are interested to see what works best for families, whether that is the new program or traditional in-person class.

“There’s no substitute for in-person classes because they have that face to face time, they have the relationship-building, they have interactions with their classmates,” she said. “But at the same time, we realize that sometimes that’s just not possible for everybody. I think the big thing for us is to provide options for students and families.”

During Gov. Andy Beshear’s “Healthy at School” announcement, his team displayed their safety expectations for reopening schools for the 2020-21 academic year. The four expectations are social distancing, temperature screenings, personal protective equipment — including face-coverings, which must cover students’ mouths and nose — and sanitation.

Students enrolled in first grade and above, and staff member should be required to wear cloth face coverings, unless medically waivered, according to the Kentucky Department of Education.

“Masks can be lowered during classroom time if all students and staff are seated six feet apart, and no persons are walking around the inside of the classroom,” said Ashby. “So, if you’re in a classroom, and you’re six feet apart, then you can take the mask off or lower it, but when students are outside, and six feet from each other, masks are not required.”

One of the district’s questions is, how are they going to implement social distancing in the classroom?

Ashby said in a standard-sized classroom, 30 students won’t be able to fit spread out. This means class sizes could be smaller, but she said that is something they are going to tackle after the Fourth of July holiday.

In Dawson Springs, Supt. Lenny Whalen said his team faces challenges with the new guidance, and they are meeting today to discuss how best to implement them in their schools.

“It’s going to be a challenge we’re going to have to find the best solutions to that we can,” he said. “I think working on the social distancing piece will be a major part as well as the required masks when students move around, or if they’re not in a classroom that has enough space to social distance.”

With the new mandates will come added costs to districts including additional cleaning supplies, hand sanitizer, purchasing masks to have on hand, and they’ll have to buy new touchless thermometers to screen at each school, said Ashby.

“It’s going to be challenging, to say the least,” she said.

Ashby understands that mask-wearing has become a topic for debate in the county and nationally.

“We are not trying to interject ourselves into that,” she said. “We know that there are people who don’t want to wear masks, and they don’t want their kids to have to wear masks at school. We respect that. This is not our rule. This is coming down from Frankfort, from the Department of Public Health, from the commissioner of education and from the governor’s office.

“It is our responsibility to operate under the guidance which they gave us to keep our kids as healthy in school as possible,” said Ashby. “With that being said, I know people aren’t happy, and I’m sorry, and I respect their different opinions, but it is our job to meet people where they are.

“If they don’t have a laptop, how can we help them. If they don’t have internet access, how can we help them? If they are medically fragile and can’t come to school, how can we help them? If they have to wear a mask and they want to come to school, how can we help them? We’re going to do everything we can to create an environment so that they have to wear the mask the least amount of time possible,” she said.

From July 8-15, Hopkins County schools will contact families with a survey discussing education options, computer and internet access, which Ashby says will help the district inform their staffing needs and their class sizes.

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