Hardin County and Elizabethtown Schools to Continue Masking

Anthony Clemons

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Mr. Elmore, Principal at EHS, addresses the incoming freshmanElizabethtown Independent School District

(ELIZABETHTOWN, KY) — During a special legislative session on Thursday, the Republican-led Kentucky General Assembly rebuked Gov. Andy Beshear's COVID mitigation strategy by overriding his veto for a bill that removes his authority to authorize a statewide mask mandate. Hardin County Schools and the Elizabethtown Independent School District must now maintain their own COVID safety protocols, including whether to use masks.

In an email, the Elizabethtown Independent School District said:

"Many of you may be aware that the Kentucky General Assembly passed a bill yesterday that includes the removal of the statewide public school mandate. The statewide mandate will expire on Tuesday, Sept. 14th. Due to the continued elevated COVID cases in our area, Elizabethtown Independent Schools will continue to require all students, staff, and visitors to wear face coverings when indoor school facilities, regardless of vaccination status. The health and safety of EIS students and staff is of great importance, and we have experienced first hand (sic) how the use of face coverings greatly reduces transmission within our schools."

"Face covering protocols will be determined based on the Hardin County COVID Incidence Rate posted each Thursday evening. The Thursday rate will inform for the following week, Monday - Friday. A one call will be sent out each Thursday to inform students, staff and families of the protocol status," the email continued.

The email also explained that masking protocols would be based on Hardin County's rating each Thursday in the widely published statewide COVID-19 incident rate report.

If Hardin County is 50 or above, "all persons must cover their nose and mouth with a face covering when indoors at school facilities, regardless of vaccination status." If the incident rate is below 50, face coverings will be optional in the district's middle and high schools.

Face coverings will continue to be required for all EIS elementary schools "until the Hardin County incidence rate falls below 25 (orange status) or one month after a vaccine is available for students under age 12, whichever occurs first."

The email also listed the masking exemptions it previously outlined in its Safe Return policy:

  • Children under the age 2;
  • Any person who is sleeping or unconscious;
  • Any person with a disability, or a physical or mental impairment, that prevents them from safely wearing a face covering;
  • Any person who is deaf or hard of hearing and is actively communicating, or any person who is actively communicating with someone who is deaf or hard of hearing;
  • Any person who is seated and actively consuming food or beverage;
  • Any person who is obtaining a service that requires temporary removal of the face-covering in order to perform the service;
  • Any person who is required to temporarily remove their face covering to confirm their identity or for security or screening purposes;
  • Any person who is giving a speech or broadcast to any audience and is able to maintain a safe distance of at least six feet from all individuals who are not members of the person's household;
  • Any person who is in a swimming pool or other body of water indoors; or
  • Any person who is actively engaged in exercise while indoors.

According to the Hardin County Schools website, COVID mitigation procedures will continue based on its reopening strategy. This includes requiring the use of masks in public facilities.

"Students, staff and essential visitors will be expected to wear masks when they are moving around the building or when they are within six feet of others. Masks will not be required for children in preschool or for those with medical exemptions," reads the HCS mask policy.

"Students in Kindergarten - 12th grades will be expected to wear masks on the bus, during transitions and in classrooms when appropriate social distancing is not possible unless the student has a medical waiver that excludes him or her from wearing a mask," the policy continues.

The HCS website also includes a social distancing policy, that addresses logistical considerations for classrooms and student movement through their facilities.

"Classrooms will be arranged with social distancing in mind. Traffic patterns and other logistics will be controlled to achieve social distancing whenever possible," reads the social distancing policy.

As part of its efforts to sustain student attendance, HCS announced Friday evening that it is adding a voluntary mitigation measure called Test to Stay. The measure gives students who have been in direct contact of a positive case of COVID-19 the option of being tested to stay in school.

The Test to Stay protocol was created by the Lincoln Trail District Health Department on guidance from the Kentucky Department of Public Health, and designed to promote attendance and safety.

“Our top priorities are to keep our students and staff safe and for our students to receive in-person instruction,” HCS Superintendent Teresa Morgan said.

According to the HCS website, students who test negative can attend class, but if a student tests positive, they will be sent home and exercise normal isolation guidelines. A return to school letter will then be sent home with the student.

General Assembly Entrusts Local School Districts to Maintain COVID Mitigation Strategies

While HCS and the EIS have implemented their own COVID mitigations strategies since the beginning of the school year, the General Assembly reversed an emergency regulation passed by the Kentucky Board of Education requiring universal masking inside public schools.

With the passage of SB 1 and its house counterpart, the General Assembly places the onus of maintaining and developing COVID mitigation strategies squarely in the purview of local school districts, closing the door to state board intervention until June 1, 2023, when SB 1 becomes law.

Though Beshear vetoed line items restricting his ability to implement universal mask mandates, the House voted to override his veto by 69-24 in the House and the 21-6 in the Senate. Beshear later Tweeted a sharp response to the passage of the masking legislation.

In a press briefing, Beshear later remarked, "We had the courage to make the tough decisions, like restrictions when they were necessary, and masking."

"But the legislature wanted that ball," Beshear continued. He added that the legislature now "owns this pandemic moving forward" and that if he still had the authority indoor masking would still be mandated.

His response comes at a time when Kentucky is facing a surge in COVID-19 cases that are continuing to stress hospitals and medical staff across the state. On Thursday, Beshear deployed additional National Guard members to provide support to critical staff shortages in hospitals, putting the total deployed service members at 411.

Hardin County continues to be in the "Red", indicating a high likelihood of COVID transmission, and is reporting an incidence rate of 117, double the allowance for a mask optional standard in EIC schools.

This article is an updated version of its original form and is current as of 8:45, Friday, Sept. 10, 2021.

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Anthony Clemons is a digital reporter for NewsBreak. He is a veteran and graduate of Columbia University and Goucher College where he took an MFA in Nonfiction Writing. He grew up in Pikeville, Kentucky. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram @anthonycclemons.

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