Advisory Group Offers Feedback on "Health at School" Guidance
From the Kentucky Department of Education:
On June 29, the Education Continuation Task Force became the first of the Kentucky Department of Education’s (KDE) advisory groups to provide feedback on the Healthy at School guidance document released last week.
“I know there is a lot of anxiety out there about starting school,” said KDE Interim Education Commissioner Kevin C. Brown. “But I believe we are in a much better place now than we were last week just because a lot of this is coming to fruition and we’re able to see with a little bit better clarity what this is going to look like.”
The guidance recommends that students or staff should stay home or be sent home if they have a temperature of greater than 100.4.
State Rep. Tina Bojanowski (Louisville) raised concerns with 100.4 being the determination between “sick and not sick.”
“As a teacher, what I found often in the classroom is you’ll have a child who doesn’t feel well and you have to send them down to the office. The office takes their temperature and they may not quite have what the temperature requirement is and the child is sent back up to the classroom,” she said.
In addition to checking for temperature, Bojanowski asked if there are other measures in place for school nurses to determine if a student may need to be sent home as a possible COVID-19 case.
“With COVID, not only is temperature an indicator, but there’s really a whole list of symptoms that we want to be able to have folks assess,” said Kay Kennedy of KDE’s Division of District Support.
Within the Healthy at Schools guidance document, there is a list of symptoms to keep an eye out for, including temperature, cough, vomiting, diarrhea, new rash and exposure to a COVID-19 case.
The guidance recommends schools have a designated area for isolation of sick students with an ability to maintain adult supervision until the student is picked up by a parent, guardian or designee.
Since it has been reported that some individuals can be asymptomatic carriers of COVID-19, Executive Director Jim Flynn of the Kentucky Association of School Superintendents asked about the value of temperature checking every student before entering the school building due to the logistical and financial challenges for districts.
Twenty percent to 40% of those infected with COVID-19 show no symptoms, which means up to 80% of individuals are symptomatic, said Dr. Connie White, deputy commissioner of the Kentucky Department for Public Health (DPH).
White added that fever is one of the most consistent symptoms that people have and, while temperature checking is not a panacea, it is still vital to consistently check the students before entering the school building.
“We think that catching that early, before symptoms of cough, shortness of breath and rash and all of the other things that we list … is important,” she said.
Another question raised by the task force was with an already limited number of school nurses statewide, would the school nurse be required to conduct COVID-19 tests?
Angela McDonald, a nurse consultant from KDE’s Division of District Support, said no. McDonald said the COVID-19 test is an invasive procedure and she would rather parents be with the child when and if they are tested. School nurses will assess the student and then refer them to their health care provider for testing.
To address the shortage of school nurses throughout the Commonwealth, McDonald encouraged superintendents to consider utilizing either their district’s Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Funds or Medicaid funds to hire school nurses for their district.
KDE also released new guidance on student transportation last week and both Kennedy and Elisa Hanley, manager of the Pupil Transportation Branch in KDE’s Division of District Support, walked through the guidance with the task force.
The first thing that districts should do, according to the guidance, is survey parents to gauge the number of students who will require pupil transportation. If more families are going to drive their children to school, districts will need to examine their staffing numbers to ensure they have a way to control the traffic flow in and out of the school, said Hanley.
The guidance also recommends that districts evaluate their current bell times to see if changes can be made that will allow fewer students to ride the bus at the same time. Ideally, Hanley said, districts would not have elementary, middle and high school students riding the bus together.
If schools must have multiple grade levels on the bus together, it is recommended to load the bus from the rear. Younger students should sit in the front because they will be easier to see and because kindergarteners will not be required to wear a mask to school.
“Students will need to have assigned seats and attendance will need to be taken before everyone leaves the bus and this is for contact tracing,” said Hanley.
The contact tracing program is an online tracking system that allows public health workers to record individual information of Kentuckians who have been exposed to COVID-19, conduct outreach and monitor wellness.
According to DPH, public health has used contact tracing for decades to identify individuals with a communicable illness, isolate them and quarantine others with high-risk exposure to the infected person to prevent disease spread.
If districts already have monitors on their buses, it is recommended that they perform temperature checks before a student enters the bus. However, not every district has monitors on the bus.
KDE is working with Infinite Campus to see if there is a way to set up a parent assurance online, according to Robin Kinney, associate commissioner of KDE’s Office of Finance and Operations. If a parent were to opt-in to this option, they would be assuring the district that they checked their child’s temperature before allowing them to board the bus. The school still will need to check the student's temperature before they would be allowed to enter the school building.
Food Service Guidance
On June 22, KDE released food service guidance to Kentucky’s 172 school districts.
The document, “COVID-19 Considerations for Reopening Schools: Food Service Operations – USDA School Meal Programs,” includes several considerations, including modifications to the layout of the cafeteria and kitchen to keep with public health recommendations while holding in-school dining.
The guidance states meals should be served in supervised, non-congregate settings that ensure social distancing guidelines are followed. Pre-planning and thoughtful consideration of the delivery and service of meals to individual groups of students is needed to enable contact tracing.
Food service staff will need to check temperatures and complete any employee health screening per district protocol upon arrival at the workplace. Staff who develop symptoms during the workday will follow district protocol for staff illness. Food service staff shall always wear face masks at the workplace unless the employee has been granted a medical exemption.
Lauren Moore, director of KDE’s Division of School and Community Nutrition, informed the task force that the deadline to apply for the Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) program has been extended to July 10.
The P-EBT program provides households with an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card with benefits equal to the value of breakfasts and lunches a student was not able to receive during the days schools were closed. Households can use these benefits for grocery items eligible under the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP).
P-EBT benefits are entirely federally funded and were originally projected to provide up to $187 million in food assistance for up to 595,000 qualifying children. The plan will provide each eligible student with up to $313.50 for the time period of March through May to help with nutritional support during the time that schools have been closed during the pandemic.
If a family is approved for P-EBT in a month following March, they will receive benefits for the month in which they became eligible through May. The benefits will remain active for one year.
To apply for P-EBT, visit www.benefind.ky.gov.