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Estill County students return to school despite governor's recommendation

Posted at 9:40 PM, Jan 04, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-04 23:36:38-05

IRVINE, Ky. (LEX 18) — Despite the governor's guidance for red zone counties to wait until January 11 to prevent the spread of covid-19 after the holidays, Estill County students returned to campus on Monday, January 4.

This was the first time since October that students were back inside Estill County school buildings.

Superintendent Jeff Saylor says thousands of dollars have been spent on PPE and sanitizing equipment, and with social distancing measures assures that the return is safe.

"So I think it's important that we try to give everyone the right opportunity for what they want to do for their child," said Saylor.

Saylor says the final decision was not made until the weekend when the county's COVID-19 incidence rate was in the low 40's.

"We have students that are struggling when it comes to the social and emotional aspects in their lives and we needed to be able to see our kids," said Saylor.

Estill County is still in the red zone. In updated guidance issued by the state last month, red zone counties are advised to conduct a more aggressive hybrid approach this semester.

However, Governor Beshear's December 18th executive order recommends any Red Zone County, like Estill, delay a return to in-person instruction until January 11.

The first day of in-person classes in Estill County is January 4.

"We were afraid if we didn't go this week, we wouldn't get to go next. We wouldn't get to go next week after that. And then the next thing you know, we're sending the same message (as in the fall) that our kids can't come to school," said Saylor.

LEX 18 asked the public health director of the Estill County Health Department, Elizabeth Walling, about that decision to return.

"If we were to compare the criteria and what the governor said about not returning until January 11, the Estill County Health Department cannot be in support of going back to school on January 4," said Walling.

"We did share the metric document with our health department. We did not consult them about the January 4 date," said Saylor.

The new metric for the county includes the addition of a Purple Zone. That would mean 100% remote learning if the incidence rate is greater than 50 cases per 100,000 residents.

Walling says there are 55 active cases in the county, which, unfortunately, could mean hitting that threshold soon.

"If we only get to see them this week and we have to take a couple weeks off, we'll take a couple weeks off and sort of wait for this to calm down. But our goal this spring is to go as many in-person days as we can," said Saylor.

One parent we spoke with says that she is concerned that going back-and-forth between remote and hybrid will impact student enthusiasm if they're not in school. She wanted to remain anonymous but added that she witnessed that firsthand in the fall when students returned home.

Saylor says with the exception of the decision to return now, the district will continue to follow the recommendations from Frankfort.

Saylor says that a decision about next week's instruction plan will depend on the state Department of Health's numbers released on Thursday.

620 Estill County students are taking part in hybrid learning, which is 60% of the district.