Fayette County to continue mask mandate in schools
Supt. Demetrus Liggins defends decision in his weekly COVID-19 update
LEXINGTON, Ky. (WTVQ) – Fayette County Public Schools (FCPS) will continue its mask requirement following the advice of new Lexington-Fayette County Health Department Commissioner Dr. Joel McCullough.
Superintendent Demetrus Liggins says changing the mask requirement now would require a return to contact tracing and quarantines for in-school exposures, which would result in an increase in student absences.
The school district reported 233 new student COVID-19 cases and 38 new staff cases for the week of Feb. 8-14, 2022.
Members of the FCPS COVID-19 Core Team met for the first time Tuesday morning with new Commissioner of Health Dr. Joel McCullough, who officially started his role in our community on Monday, February 14. The fact that Dr. McCullough met with representatives from the school district on his second day of work speaks volumes about his commitment to continuing the close partnership between the health department and the school system, according to the school district.
Lexington-Fayette County Health Department Interim Chief Administrative Officer Jessica Cobb shared the great news that positivity rates and case numbers continue to decline, noting that the seven-day average of new cases is down more than 50% from 726 last week to 346 this week. Cobb also announced the department had cleared its backlog of cases and was fully up-to-date on reporting at this time.
While numbers are headed in the right direction, health officials noted that the seven-day average of new cases is still higher than at any time before six weeks ago. The surge from the Omicron variant was so extreme that it’s tempting to think conditions are better than they are, they cautioned. “We’re still in a heightened period of community spread and transmission,” Cobb said.
Supt. Liggins’ weekly COVID-19 report is below:
However you feel about requiring masks in schools, there is someone in our community who disagrees with you. I know that because as your superintendent, I am hearing from people with a wide range of opinions and questions about this issue.
The one sentiment I believe we all share is that we want our students to have as close to a normal school year as possible. Since joining the district in late July, and nearly every day since, I have consistently heard that our families, employees, and community members want me to do everything within my authority to keep our children in school with minimal disruptions.
For the past six months, our district has deliberately and carefully done that by making decisions based on recommendations from public health officials at the federal, state, and local levels. That has not made everyone happy, but it has kept us in school.
Right now, the experts are advising us to continue universal masking. That may change, but listening to the experts has brought us this far and I am proud of the fact that we have not had to close our district or switch all of our schools to virtual learning due to COVID-19.
Prematurely moving away from masking could derail our efforts to keep our schools open. When other school districts have rescinded mask requirements, cases have risen, student and employee absences and quarantines have increased, and substitute and staffing shortages have prompted school closures.
Here is our current situation:
- In the past week, 233 FCPS students have tested positive for COVID-19. That number is the lowest we’ve seen in six weeks but is still one of the highest student case counts we have had in the 27 weeks since school began.
- In our meeting this morning, Lexington-Fayette County Health Department Commissioner Dr. Joel McCullough said he recommends continuing with mask requirements for the time being. He indicated a desire to reevaluate that guidance, but said “I would recommend staying the course at this point.”
- Due to existing guidelines from the Kentucky Department for Public Health, changing our mask requirement would require a return to contact tracing and quarantines for in-school exposures, which would increase student absences.
- Five days ago, Governor Andy Beshear said that if case numbers continue dropping quickly, he believes school districts may be able to safely lift mask requirements in two to three weeks.
- Under current state law, the authority to determine mask requirements in schools rests with the local school board. Since we work so closely together, the school board often looks to the superintendent to bring forward a recommendation.
- During last night’s planning work session of the Fayette County Board of Education, board members reiterated their continued support of intentional collaboration and dialogue with our public health partners.
So where does that leave us?
At last night’s board meeting, Fayette County Public Schools Health Services Coordinator Debbie Boian likened our current reality to a plane that has just landed. While some people want to quickly unbuckle and stand up to gather their overhead bags, passengers are always cautioned to remain seated with their seat belts fastened until the captain indicates that the plane is parked at the gate and it is safe to move about the cabin.
At this point in our COVID-19 journey, I believe we have landed and are headed toward the gate. Following the advice of our public health pilots has allowed us to prioritize in-person learning by adopting layers of prevention strategies and refining our approach as state and national guidelines have changed. We anticipate further adjustments as public health realities improve, and remain committed to making informed decisions guided by the experts with whom we work closely each week.
As we move through these next few weeks together, I ask that you treat one another with kindness and respect, extending to others the measure of grace that we all need.
Please be well and take care of each other,