LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — Fayette County Public Schools spent millions to bring students back to the classroom safely in-person after virtual learning for months. One year later, they're still navigating through change while continuing to prioritize virtual learning.
FCPS students returned to the classroom on February 22, 2021. At the time, students all wore masks, desks were spaced 6-feet apart, and jump rope and plastic partitions were put out for extra precaution.
February 22, 2022, students are still wearing masks, but the extra space, jump rope, partitions, and mandatory quarantines are gone.
"Really, the only consistency with COVID-19 has been change because the science around the virus is constantly evolving. And our schools have had to adapt along the way," said spokesperson Lisa Deffendall. "Each new phase has brought new medical information, different safety guidelines. There have been new challenges, and we've also had to find new solutions."
Over the months, protocols have relaxed. The district changed quarantine guidelines, hired a new superintendent, hosted vaccine clinics, created a test-to-stay program, faced teacher, sub and bus driver shortages, and even dealt with the death of three staff members and a 15-year-old student from complications with COVID-19.
"I think COVID-19 has taken a lot from all of us. Many of us have lost loved ones, colleagues. We just treasure those lives that we've lost, and we are so grateful for the time that we had with individuals that we've lost, and we are just we continue to mourn the amazing, incredible individuals who were taking from us."
From February 22, 2021, to February 22, 2022, there have been 7,873 student cases and 1,597 staff cases.
That's out of 40,000 students and 8,000 staff members total. Cases have been on the decline for four consecutive weeks, which Deffendall says looks promising.
"The pandemic has taken so much from us and learning, and schools should be joyful places. Our kids, our students, our staff, they are so happy to be back. I think it's helped us to appreciate things that we took for granted in the past," said Deffendall.
With COVID cases decreasing in the community, there are several parents wanting the mask mandate lifted. Some parents are planning to rally at the next board of education meeting.
"If you can go to a UK basketball game and not have to wear a mask if you can go to the mall and not wear a mask, my child should not wear a mask," said FCPS parent Amanda Patrick.
While FCPS parent Davita Gatewood is pleased that her students are back in the classroom, she hopes the next year will bring more progress addressing issues students face in areas like unstable housing, gun violence, inequity in sports, and mental health.
"My son is a senior, but he's lost a loved one. I mean, a lot of young people in his age group have lost friends and family members. Gun violence is like touching every school in this district to the point where it's touched every school, there's even elementary school kids that are affected. So, we can't keep acting like some of these issues are not issues anymore," said Gatewood.