Judge: Boone County Schools must resume full in-person learning

NKY parent files lawsuit to get students back to in-person learning full time

BOONE CO., Ky. (FOX19) - A judge has ordered Boone County Schools must resume in-person learning five days a week by March 22.

The district, Kentucky’s third largest, plans to appeal the injunction order immediately, according to a spokesperson.

Friday’s ruling strikes at the heart of a dispute between Gov. Andy Beshear and a Republican-led Kentucky legislature.

Kentucky schools are required by statute to provide full in-person instruction. Students that want to study virtually must demonstrate “a showing of need.”

Passed in early February, Senate Bill 1 prohibits the governor from changing that — or any — statutes without approval from the legislature and sign-off from the attorney general.

Come March 5, the bill will invalidate Beshear’s Dec. 18 executive order requiring that every school offer a viable virtual option for students who don’t want to go back to the classroom due to COVID-19.

Before Senate Bill 1 passed, around 20 percent of Boone County School District students had already chosen the fully virtual option. The rest are currently learning in-person two days per week. The district plans to return to four in-person days per week March 1.

That plan largely complies with Kentucky’s safety recommendations, though it doesn’t guarantee six feet of social distancing at all times due to spatial constraints.

Superintendent Matthew Turner says the district is using Wednesdays, the one day of all-virtual instruction, to “focus on students needing assistance, especially students that are only receiving virtual instruction.”

That is, the virtual day exists primarily to accomodate fully virtual students rather than to safeguard the school for in-person students, even if the district does use the day for cleaning.

Attorney Chris Wiest filed the lawsuit seeking the injunction earlier this month on behalf of Boone County parent Aaron Gillum, who has two school-aged children, including a 6-year-old with autism.

In Friday’s ruling, Judge Richard Brueggemann said even the four-day plan does “irreparable harm” by depriving Boone County students of their constitutional right to education.

Brueggemann pointed to other districts in Kentucky providing full instruction without suffering “adverse consequences for having done so.”

He also noted Indiana only recommends three feet of social distancing and Ohio has no social distancing requirement in schools.

“[Boone County Schools] presented these comparisons to demonstrate why it is more difficult to resume in-person classes in Kentucky but provided no indication that these adjoining states have suffered any adverse consequences from reducing—or removing—distancing guidelines,” he wrote.

But district spokesperson Barbara Cain-Brady says the district still has some serious issues to address, including staff members recovering from infections and other staff members in continued quarantines.

“Some classes don’t have teachers, and some buses don’t have drivers due to this illness,” Cain-Brady said. “It’s a revolving door. People who are not in education just don’t realize it’s not a cut-and-dry decision to go back to ‘normal’ five-days a week while COVID is still in full effect.”

The injunction only covers Boone County Schools for now, but a class action request is pending that could take it statewide.

Brueggemann said he will rule on that request after the district’s appeal is decided.

Meanwhile, Beshear is suing to block Senate Bill 1 and two other similar bills from taking effect. The judge has yet to rule on the injunction.

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