On Wednesday, Gov. Andy Beshear, Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman and Kevin Brown, interim commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Education, released the long-awaited initial guidance for what Kentucky schools will look like as they reopen for the fall.

“One of my top priorities as we have fought against the coronavirus is ensuring our children can safely return to school in the fall,” said Gov. Beshear. “Our top health experts and our educators have worked together to craft this guidance to take the necessary steps to protect our children and our dedicated staff as they return to school.”

The interim “Guidance on Safety Expectations and Best Practices for Kentucky Schools” covers kindergarten through 12th-grade instruction in the commonwealth.

Logan County schools superintendent Paul Mullins said nothing that was discussed was surprising.

“It was the first time hearing it all together,” Mullins said. “There wasn’t anything there that really surprised me. This gives us an opportunity to clear up our plan that we’ve been working on. I know we’ve been meeting trying to come up with a plan and this will allow us to take our next steps in getting that put together.”

The safety expectations were written with input from the Education Continuation Task Force as well as the Governor’s Office, Department for Public Health, Kentucky Department of Education, the Cabinet of Education and Workforce Development and the Cabinet for Health and Family Services. Throughout the process, stakeholders from all areas of education have been engaged to provide input and expertise.

Brown stressed the importance of wearing masks to keep schools open and students, teachers and staff members safe. He noted that we’ve already lost people key to our education community to COVID-19.

“I want to re-emphasize why it is important to have these expectations, why it is important that your child wears a mask at school. It’s important because we need to protect teachers like John Page,” Commissioner Brown said, noting that Page — a welding instructor at Monroe County Area Technology Center — died recently of coronavirus at only 47 years old. “Our welding instructors, our teachers, our students, our staff deserve to work and learn in an environment with a reduced risk of a disease without a vaccine and without a treatment. That’s why the document we are releasing today is so important and that’s why I know our districts and our teachers are going to act in good faith to reopen our schools with these expectations.”

Mullins said Logan County schools would be holding online registration the first week of July. Parents will be given an option of keeping their children home for virtual learning — similar to the way the school year ended — or sending them back to school.

“We want to make both those choices the best they can be,” Mullins said. “We need to meet the needs of our students and the parents that help them through it until they feel like they’re ready to send their children back to school.”

Dr. Steven Stack, Kentucky’s commissioner for public health, said all of the guidance and rules require some sacrifice, but are needed.

“We know some of these things will be difficult to do in schools, and we tried to minimize these difficulties as much as possible when we developed the guidance,” Dr. Stack said. “But these are the things we need to do to keep students, staff and communities safe.”

Lt. Gov. Coleman said the state was working to ensure waivers will be granted to schools needing to use Non-Traditional Instruction (NTI) days.

She also announced that through Expanded Care, schools can take advantage of federal funding that covers Medicaid-eligible students for services including nursing, audiology, occupational therapy, speech therapy, physical therapy, interpreters, mobility and mental health.

“It is our duty to protect every child, but it is also our duty to protect every adult and every family member of the folks in those school buildings,” said Lt. Gov. Coleman. “The Governor, the Commissioner and I have come together to help provide the flexibility that is needed by schools to meet these unique circumstances.”

Lt. Gov. Coleman also highlighted the essential work teachers and bus drivers are called upon to perform during the global pandemic. She noted that in April, Fayette County school bus driver Eugenia Weathers, 56, died of COVID-19 and 16 other employees were sickened with the virus. In addition, in Grant County two school workers — Garylin “Stoney” Stone, 71, and Jo Ann Banks, 56, — also succumbed to the novel coronavirus.

“We are so grateful that Governor Beshear has put the health and safety of our bus drivers and students first,” said John Stovall, president of Teamsters 783 in Louisville. “Our folks are excited to get back to work, but we have to make sure we’re taking the necessary steps to prevent the spread of the virus.”