Schools are ‘learning and adapting’ amid pandemic

A classroom is seen in this illustration photo. Immaculate Conception High School in Augusta, Ga., is offering both online and in-person education this fall for for special needs students during the coronavirus pandemic. (CNS photo/Lucy Nicholson, Reuters)

Since the 2020-2021 school year began last month under the cloud of the coronavirus, the Archdiocese of Louisville’s 48 schools have been learning and adapting along with their nearly 19,000 students.

“We are learning, we are adapting and we know more than we did two or three weeks ago,” said Superintendent of Schools Leisa Schulz. “We are getting accustomed to some of it, however we know the coronavirus will continue. We know that things will ebb and flow in different ways and we have to be prepared to change.”

Already schools have adjusted their schedules and class sizes to create safer spaces, she noted. Mask policies have become more restrictive at the advice of the health department. Students are now wearing masks indoors at all times even when socially-distanced. 

Schulz said, “We are working in conjunction with our health departments, our leaders, our teachers, our parents and our students.”

She and other Catholic school leaders consult weekly with the Louisville Metro Department of Health and Wellness. And schools outside Jefferson County regularly consult with their local public health departments, too, Schulz said. 

School leaders also consult with one another regularly about challenges and solutions, she said. And parents have been important players, she noted.

“Our parents and students are doing a good job,” she noted. “They are part of a larger community. They know what goes on outside our schools affects what goes on inside our schools.”

“Parents and teachers have been good about keeping us apprised of positive cases, and then we work hand in hand with our health department to implement our protocol for quarantining those individuals and identifying any direct contact in the school environment that may need to quarantine,” she said.

According to figures maintained by the Kentucky Department for Public Health, Catholic schools had 80 active cases and two recoveries as of Sept. 11.

But according to archdiocesan leaders, those active case numbers reflect cases that are weeks old and don’t reflect recoveries.

A note on the state’s report explains, “These cases may still be in the verification process at the state level. Therefore, the numbers may vary from local and other reported numbers and are subject to revision as the verification process is completed.” 

By the afternoon of Sept. 14 the state’s report had been updated to reflect 65 active cases of COVID-19 and 18 recoveries.

In a Sept. 14 letter to update pastors about schools, Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz noted that the state reporting lag is “sometimes as many as two to three weeks.”

“There is some lag in the reporting of new cases, but the site is generally accurate in its tallying of the total number of cases,” he said. “There is a significant lag, however, in its movement of active cases to recovered cases.”

He notes in his letter that a recent news story using the state’s data “cited multiple active cases at two of our high schools (Assumption and Saint Xavier), the majority of which took place weeks ago and in some cases before school started. 

“None of the cases originated at the schools but from other settings,” he said. “At this point, there is only one active case associated with these two schools.”

The archbishop’s letter to priests was primarily an update related to the school reopening plan. The plan called for Kentucky’s four bishops to evaluate the plan after Labor Day and they did so on Sept. 11, Archbishop Kurtz wrote.

“After hearing from school leaders, and teachers, I and the other three bishops are affirming our plan to move forward cautiously in offering in-person instruction at Catholic schools in the four dioceses,” he said. 

“As has been noted many times, each of our Catholic schools is unique and so while following the general guidance offered by each diocese — which is based upon the school protocols from the Kentucky Department of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control — school re-entry plans employ a variety of models, schedules, use of facilities, and so on. 

“We support schools in these efforts to create sustainable models and recognize that schools will make adjustments as necessary to protect the safety and health of students and staff,” he said. “This may include adjustments to instructional models and schedules, including periods of non-traditional instruction as conditions change and when students and/or teachers need to enter quarantine.”  

Archbishop Kurtz also had some praise for local educators.

“I would like to extend my deep thanks to our school leaders, teachers, staff, and our Superintendent of Schools and her staff. I know that everyone is working double time on all kinds of extra tasks to keep everyone safe,” he concluded.

Schulz noted that school and parish staff around the archdiocese are working “above and beyond typical days to make things happen.” 

Maintenance staff clean high-touch areas multiple times throughout the school day and then regularly do deep cleanings when no one is there, Schulz said.

Parish staff might be called in to proctor classes in larger schools so that large classes can be divided into two smaller classes, she noted. Where educators are teaching more than one group of students, they are losing planning periods and lunch breaks, so some schools are also looking at shortening the school day to provide planning periods or adding one remote learning day each week.

Other schools are using hybrid models, particularly large and mid-size high schools.

One thing seems to remain constant — the approach to education in a pandemic is evolving.

That’s for one important reason Schulz added:

“We want to make sure our in-person instruction is sustainable,” she said. “Barring any major shifts or changes within the community (related to the pandemic). What are the things that are working well? What are the things that need changes, because we want to keep this going throughout the year?”

Marnie McAllister
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Marnie McAllister
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