Caldwell school board votes to return to hybrid plan on Sept. 14

Interim Superintendent Heath Cartwright (left) listens Tuesday as Board Chair Tim Kennaday discusses an issue regarding the Caldwell County School District beginning its hybrid plan Sept. 14. That plan would have some students return to the classroom while others take at-home instruction.

The Caldwell County School Board voted 5-0 on Tuesday to implement its original hybrid plan for instruction, beginning Sept. 14, rather than waiting until Sept. 28.

That plan was supposed to begin Aug. 24, but Gov. Andy Beshear made the recommendation Aug. 10 that all students have at-home instruction at least until Sept. 28.

Former Caldwell County Superintendent Nate Huggins announced soon after that the school district would abide by that recommendation.

Interim Superintendent Heath Cartwright told the board at a special meeting Tuesday — his first day of duties — that the district would go back to the original hybrid plan.

“In working with the district nursing staff, schools and the departments in the district, there is an overwhelming consensus of the need to have the students return to in-class instruction as soon as possible,” he said.

“While we would continue to offer the option for parents to have their children enrolled in non-traditional instruction — often called NTI or distance learning — I’m prepared to follow the direction of the board in revising the return to school plan.”

That plan is based on a survey given to parents last summer to determine if they wanted their students to have traditional in-school instruction or non-traditional instruction at home.

Those students whose parents wanted them to return to in-school instruction were divided into two groups. One group would go to school on Monday and Wednesday, while the other group would go to school on Tuesday and Thursday. Friday would be an at-home instruction day for all students.

Students whose parents did not want them to return to schools would have at-home instruction via Zoom or other internet sources.

Schools would follow state and national guidelines to promote the prevention of the spread of COVID-19, which includes wearing masks when social distancing is not possible, encouraging washing hands and checking body temperatures before entering the school buildings.

“I want our kids in front of our teachers as soon as we can possibly do it,” Cartwright said. “So, giving two weeks’ notice, I believe, gives our schools a chance to kind of gear up for that. I believe they are already prepared for that.

“But I also want to give our families the opportunity to make adjustments that they may have for any kind of child care-type situations.”

Board member Bill Clift asked Cartwright when schools could return to five-day instruction.

“If we follow the governor’s recommendation, that could be available Sept. 28,” Cartwright said. “If we do not follow the governor’s recommendation, it could be as soon as tomorrow.

“I would love to give our schools the chance to get their feet wet with the schedule that they’ve prepared for. I’ve talked with all our school administration, and they do feel very prepared to come in on the hybrid schedule.”

Cartwright added that there needs to be a transition plan in place to return to five-day instruction.

“We can do that at any time,” he said, “but I would prefer us to have the kids in school for a little bit of time just to make sure that things are going well as we plan for them to go.”

Cartwright told the board that there are school districts in western Kentucky that had in-school instruction, including Calloway County, Crittenden County and Marshall County. Livingston County’s school board voted Monday to return to its hybrid plan this Tuesday.

“I just want to say if we can play sports, we can go to school,” Board Chair Tim Kennaday said. “I want to be safe. I want to make sure the kids — they’re safe and not taking (COVID-19) home to anyone is up front and of the utmost importance.

“However, if we’re going to get out there on the football field and the soccer field, we should be able to go to school — at least two days a week for a while.”

Cartwright said there is still the possibility that the district would have to step back, should the COVID-19 situation take a turn.

“We may have to go back to virtual instruction for a little while and make adjustments, if necessary,” he said. “But, I do know there’s been a lot of work put in on the front end to make sure that we’re adhering to the Kentucky Department of Education guidelines on Healthy at School.”

After the meeting, Cartwright said that he had been in communication with districts in western Kentucky that have been open and had gotten good reports from them.

“Some have opened with a hybrid schedule — two days a week — some have opened five days a week,” he said. “Everyone seems relatively comfortable with how the openings have begun.

“I think that it’s a situation where we talk with our health professionals, talk with our administrators, listen to our parents, but we just feel like the best option is to give our parents the option to have their kids in school being taught by teachers.”

Cartwright said that he hoped to have a successful return to schools on Sept. 14, and that it would lead to a return to traditional five-day-a-week instruction.

The board also voted Tuesday to keep the school tax rate at 44.6 cents per $100 of property, which was last year’s rate. Cartwright said there would be a public hearing at 6:45 p.m. on Sept. 21 at the Butler Building auditorium before the board votes to approve that rate at its meeting that night.