Mercer County Schools will reopen for in-person instruction on Monday, Sept. 28. Students at Burgin Independent Schools will return to class on the same day.
The Mercer County Board of Education voted 4-1 to ignore Superintendent Dennis Davis’ recommendation to begin with hybrid instruction. Mercer County is listed as orange on the state COVID-19 dashboard. So far, four Mercer County residents have died and six are hospitalized, according to the Mercer County Health Department. There are 54 active cases, while 172 are listed as having recovered.
Students at both Mercer and Burgin who signed up for online instruction will continue online until the end of the semester.
The Mercer school board also unanimously approved a return to school plan that requires students to wear masks while indoors. Last month, the board had tabled the same plan due to the inclusion of state guidance that made masks mandatory.
While the school board could have opted for a different plan, Hadden Dean, the attorney who represents the district, warned the members they could be personally liable. While admitting it would be difficult for a plaintiff to prove they had contracted COVID-19 at school, Dean recommended the board to not take any position contrary to the governor’s executive orders.
“You start setting board policy contrary to an executive order, you’ve got a problem,” he said.
“We need to have our kids back in school,” said board member Billy Montgomery, who represents District 3. “If it’s with a mask, so be it.”
The board voted unanimously to approve the plan.
At the meeting, attorney Michael Rothacker, whose child attends Mercer Schools, spoke against reopening to in-person in-struction.
Noting the rising infection rate in Mercer County, Rothacker said he was more worried about teachers, staff and older family members than students, who are typically asymptomatic carriers. While he said he felt online instruction was the safest, he asked the board to approve the hybrid option.
“There really is no good way to do this,” said Rothacker.
Board Chairman Randy Phillips, who represents District 5, noted there were 14 emails from parents. Phillips said the majority of them were requesting a return to in-person learning.
Superintendent Davis said he felt hybrid instruction, in which students went to school two days a week and completed their instruction online, while inconvenient, was the only way to have a consistent school year. He recommended returning to in-person instruction on Nov. 4.
A motion by Montgomery to approve the hybrid instruction plan failed for lack of a second. The board then voted to return to in-person instruction on Sept. 28, with only Montgomery voting no.
In other business, the Mercer County Board of Education:
• Approved the 2020-2021 working budget, which totals $23.6 million, including a $3.8 million beginning balance and a 9.89 percent contingency, including food service. Finance Officer Amber Minor said she tried to offset the unknowns because of COVID-19 and state and federal funding. The budget includes $21.1 in expenditures. Minor said they could be lower be-cause of energy savings.
• Approved buying three buses through KISTA at a total cost of $448,582.
•Approved memorandums of agreement for student teaching with Eastern Kentucky University and Asbury University.
The next school board meeting will be Thursday, Oct. 15, at 5:30 p.m.