Catholic school reopening plan prioritizes the health of the body and spirit

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, students, from left, Haleigh Dennie, Wes Meiman, Myles Husk and Jessica Nguyen carried the gifts during the offertory procession at the Catholic Schools Week Mass Jan. 28. The annual liturgy was celebrated at St. Peter the Apostle Church, 5431 Johnsontown Road. (Record Photo by Ruby Thomas)

When the 2020-2021 school year begins on or around Aug. 12, the typical back-to-school welcome events, such as school Masses, community-building and teacher retreats will look very different — some may be live-streamed or teleconferenced.

At the 48 Catholic elementary and high schools in the archdiocese, students and teachers will wear masks when social distancing is difficult and desks will be spread out in classrooms to leave at least six feet between students. Meeting rooms may become classrooms to provide more space to distance students.

These are just a few of the ways Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Louisville plan to reopen in a way that protects faculty, staff and school families from COVID-19, said Leisa Schulz, superintendent of schools.

“We want to be healthy and safe and that’s what’s guiding us,” she said. “I’m optimistic and I’m realistic, knowing the course of the virus is going to dictate things.”

On June 24, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear released Kentucky’s “Guidance on Safety Expectations and Best Practices for Kentucky Schools,” a 24-page document that offers guidelines for opening schools in August.

The archdiocese’s guidelines, which will be provided to school leaders early next week, are consistent with the state’s guidelines, said Schulz in an announcement from the archdiocese June 26.

“Because of the diversity in the size and facilities of our schools, the implementation of these guidelines may differ in various locations,” she said. “School leaders will directly communicate details about their implementation plans to families.”

In the announcement, Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz notes that the church’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been guided by Catholic social teaching about the common good.

“Thus the sound public health principles that we have been observing: social distancing, masks, diligent personal hygiene, health checks and clean facilities will all be part of this new reality,” said Archbishop Kurtz.

The state’s guidelines include five safety expectations that must be implemented by Kentucky schools. They are:

  • Social distancing of at least six feet is required in classrooms, on playgrounds and in other areas where students are gathered.
  • Cloth face coverings for those in first grade and older. Masks may be lowered when all are seated or socially distanced outdoors. Schools must also have school health policies and personal protective equipment for those delivering health care.
  • Screening for fever and other COVID-19 symptoms prior to school entry and school exclusion (meaning students and staff should stay or be sent home if they have certain symptoms).
  • Sanitation and environmental standards require schools to disinfect their facilities daily, post signs related to good hygiene, consult with the health department about classroom ventilation and collaborate with the health department on closures and reopenings.
  • Contact tracing involves notifying the health department of positive COVID-19 cases, identifying those at high risk of infection — who were in contact with the infected individual in the classroom, bus and cafeteria — and initiating a 14-day quarantine of those at risk.

In addition to these safety measures that protect the health of the human body, Schulz said Catholic schools will also be focused on the spiritual and mental wellbeing of staff and families.

“We need to recognize that they have been through a lot over the last several months,” she said, noting that when schools closed in mid-March they expected to reopen before the end of the year. “We need to intentionally check in with our teachers, students and families as the school year begins. That has had an impact on everyone.”

As the school year begins, she said, schools will spend some time helping everyone become reacquainted and feel welcomed back, mindful of what they’ve been through.

Until then, she said, school leaders will spend the summer reconfiguring school spaces and discerning how to implement safety precautions.

“How do you look at having everyone come back on-site? I think that there is apprehension. What’s it going to look like?” she said.

“We are going to work on that over the next several weeks. The size of your school, the size of your facility will impact the things you’re able to do. Those are the local decisions that will have to be made.”

Principals have already been touring their schools and looking at their classrooms with fresh eyes, she noted, and determining which pieces of furniture can go to storage to make room for social distancing.

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