Catholic schools in the Louisville area will ignore Gov. Andy Beshear’s recommendation and start in-person classes as soon as next week amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the Archdiocese of Louisville said Wednesday.
The decision from the archdiocese comes after Beshear requested Monday that Kentucky schools postpone in-person learning until Sept. 28 — a request that has drawn sharp criticism from several districts that accused the governor of trying to undermine their authority.
Three other Roman Catholic dioceses in Kentucky also will follow their initial plans to start the year with in-person instruction, officials said.
“After consulting with Archbishop (Joseph) Kurtz — who also spoke with the other bishops in the Commonwealth of Kentucky … we have decided that we will stay on course for the 2020-2021 school year and begin opening our schools for in-person instruction next week,” Leisa Schulz, the superintendent of schools for the Archdiocese of Louisville, told school leaders in a letter Wednesday morning. “I know schools have developed a variety of models to begin the school year and have communicated with families about these details.”
The Archdiocese of Louisville includes 48 schools that serve preschoolers through seniors in seven counties.
Related:Beshear won’t shut down schools that hold in-person classes
“We are all concerned about this COVID-19 pandemic and share a commitment to the common good,” Schulz said. “There are many ‘goods’ to balance as we make this decision.”
Beshear argued again Wednesday that it simply isn’t safe for students to be at school as Kentucky and the country see a “significant” rise in the infection rate among children.
He pointed to schools in Indiana and Georgia that have seen outbreaks of COVID-19 among students and staff since resuming in-person classes.
Beshear said Wednesday that the state set a single-day record of 1,163 new COVID-19 cases, 39 of which were children under the age of 5, and seven new deaths.
Kentucky now has seen 36,945 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 790 total deaths.
“This is where we are. And the idea that we would take this step at a time when we are at our peak is simply not a smart move to make,” Beshear said of resuming in-person classes.
Each school in the Archdiocese of Louisville had previously notified parents and families about opening dates and plans, according to officials.
Across the river:Indiana school districts implement safety plans on first day of class
Several schools defy Beshear’s plea to wait
All schools in Kentucky stopped holding in-person classes in March after the first cases of the novel coronavirus were reported in the Bluegrass State.
The state’s two largest districts, in Jefferson and Fayette counties, already have made plans to start the fall with nontraditional instruction, or remote learning.
Since Monday, numerous superintendents throughout the state have said they will follow Beshear’s recommendation and only host virtual classes until at least Sept. 28.
Interim Kentucky Education Commissioner Kevin Brown told the state’s superintendents on a webcast Wednesday he would plan a conference call with officials at schools that ignore Beshear’s recommendation and continue with in-person classes.
If the districts still decide to push ahead with in-person plans, then Brown said “there will be consequences” possible under various statutes.
State and local agencies, including the governor’s office, health departments and the Kentucky Board of Education, could use emergency executive powers to close schools that see COVID-19 cases, Brown said.
During Wednesday’s COVID-19 briefing, Beshear said he will refrain from using executive powers to shut down schools that go against his request, unless they “have a massive outbreak, and they’re not doing the right things and the local health department doesn’t do it.”
As for the Catholic schools resuming in-person classes this month, Beshear said he does not believe “it is a responsible decision” and hopes “they will reconsider.”
Earlier:Teachers union says COVID-19 positivity rate too high for in-person classes
Republican lawmakers take aim at Beshear
Several Republican state senators criticized Beshear in an op-ed Tuesday, saying he “unilaterally moved the goalposts” with his latest recommendation.
The group — Sens. Max Wise, Robert Stivers, David Givens, Damon Thayer, Julie Raque Adams and Mike Wilson — noted that Beshear had previously recommended that schools postpone in-person classes until the third week of August.
“One of the most frustrating scenarios is that over 100 local school districts were not given a chance to see if their in-person model may work,” the GOP senators said. “Surveys were taken, input was provided and plans were developed only to see a ‘recommendation’ basically corner those superintendents into a box.”
The Republican lawmakers said they have “full confidence in Kentucky’s education professionals” and that the state “cannot apply a one size fits all model for our school districts.”
Catholic schools favor in-person classes
Catholic schools not just in Kentucky but around the country have decided in recent weeks to start the year with in-person instruction.
“Most are trying to do in-person,” Kathy Mears, the CEO of the National Catholic Education Association, told The National Catholic Reporter. “It’s what most people want, keeping in mind however that everybody understands that the safety of children comes first, and the safety of teachers comes first.”
A reopening plan that the archdiocese released in late July was developed based on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Kentucky Department of Public Health, Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness, Archdiocese of Louisville staff, Catholic school leaders and the Kentucky Department of Education.
Those guidelines include daily temperature checks of students, staff and visitors; modified classroom layouts that encourage social distancing; face mask requirements for staff and students in the first grade and up, with exceptions for those with medical waivers; and frequent, daily cleaning and disinfection of buildings and school buses.
Schulz said she “considered several factors” in deciding to continue with in-class learning, including the “hard work and planning” from leaders “over the last several months in creating a safe space for students to learn and thrive.”
See also:Louisville YMCA locations will offer NTI help to JCPS students
Schulz added that she heard from “hundreds of parents” who said: “Our schools are ready. We are confident. Please proceed with in-person instruction.”
Another factor included the concern “for the welfare of our students and their spiritual, social, emotional and academic progress.”
“I also am mindful of the challenges parents face as they strive to balance family life, work, and the need to support their families with the needs of children who are trying to participate in nontraditional instruction,” Schulz told school leaders.
The Archdiocese of Louisville has also had “continuous conversations” with the Louisville health department and received “support and resources” from its staff, Schulz said.
“I know many of you in schools outside of Jefferson County have established similar relationships with your local health departments. We will continue to monitor the situation and make adjustments, either system-wide or at individual schools, as needed,” Schulz said.
Read this:Oldham County Schools to start upcoming year virtually
Reach Billy Kobin at [email protected]. Support strong local journalism by subscribing today: courier-journal.com/subscribe.