Catholic schools to begin as planned

St. Nicholas Academy third-grader Jameson Fox spoke to teacher Heather Cordaro Aug. 4 when the school, located at 5501 Newcut Road, held registration for the 2020-2021 school year. To comply with social distancing restrictions to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the school’s computer lab has been converted into the third-grade classroom. Each student will sit in an individual cubicle made from Plexiglass. The school has planned a staggered start to the school year with half the students returning Aug. 19 and the second half Aug. 20 to give each group an opportunity to practice the new safety guidelines put in place, said principal Katie Wallitsch. The entire student body is scheduled to return Aug. 21. (Record Photo by Ruby Thomas)

The Catholic dioceses of Kentucky, including the Archdiocese of Louisville, have decided to begin opening schools for in-person instruction as planned for the 2020-2021 school year.

In the Archdiocese of Louisville, some schools are scheduled to begin in-person within the next two weeks while others plan to begin this month with remote instruction or a mix of in-person and online instruction.

Kentucky’s four bishops — Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Bishop John Stowe of Lexington,  Bishop Roger J. Foys of Covington and Bishop William F. Medley of Owensboro — announced their decision Aug. 12. It comes two days after Gov. Beshear recommended — but did not mandate — that schools in the state delay in-person instruction for six weeks, until Sept. 28, because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This is the second time the governor has recommended a delay. In late July, he recommended schools delay opening until the third week of August. Archdiocese of Louisville schools complied with that recommendation, which came a week after Kentucky set a one-day record of new virus cases, with 979 cases reported July 19.

In an Aug. 12 letter to the governor, the bishops noted the diligent work Catholic schools have done to safely reopen and their intent to work closely with local health departments.

“Reopening schools for the new academic year in a responsible way involves many difficult decisions and a great deal of consultation and work, as you well know,” the bishops’ letter says. “We appreciate the diversity of situations in which individual schools find themselves and the challenge of balancing all of the risks involved. We write to inform you of the diligent work that has been done by the administrators, teachers, parents, and others throughout our Catholic school community, and our plans for safely reopening Kentucky’s Catholic schools.”

The letter goes on to list several factors they considered:

– “First, our school leaders have been working diligently to ensure a safe environment for all of our students, teachers, and other personnel. We are confident we can provide a safe environment and be ready to respond when there are positive cases of COVID-19 among our students, faculty, or staff.

– “Second, we are concerned for the welfare of our students and their spiritual, social, emotional, and academic progress. We are mindful of the challenges parents face as they strive to balance family life, work, and the need to support their families with the needs of children who are trying to participate in non-traditional instruction.

– “Third, our school leaders have developed excellent working relationships with public health officials, particularly our local health departments, and this will enable us to respond effectively to problems as they arise.

– “Finally, we understand the pandemic is very much a fluid situation and things can change very quickly. We will continue to monitor the situation and make adjustments, either system-wide or at individual schools, as needed. In addition, during the week of September 6, all four dioceses of the Commonwealth will conduct an evaluation of our experience to date and will make any needed changes.” 

In a letter to Archdiocese of Louisville school leaders Aug. 12, Superintendent of Schools Leisa Schulz said she consulted with Archbishop Kurtz and school leaders and heard from hundreds of parents who wanted Catholic schools to hold in-person instruction.

Highlighting the creativity and care employed to make schools safe amid the COVID-19 pandemic, she said, “I know schools have developed a variety of models for beginning the school year and have communicated with families about these details.”

Schulz’s letter quoted sections of the “Catechism of the Catholic Church” that emphasize both care for the person and the common good:

“The human body shares in the dignity of ‘the image of God’ ” (364). “Life and physical health are precious gifts entrusted to us by God. We must take reasonable care of them, taking into account the needs of others and the common good” (2288). 

Schulz’s letter also offers thanks to parents for their support of their schools and encourages them — as well as school staff, faculty and administrators — to pay careful attention to the safety guidelines provided by the archdiocese in the “Healthy at School” System Re-Entry Plan for 2020-21. The plan is available here.

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