Laurel County students will continue to wear masks on buses and in classrooms.
That was the decision of Laurel County School Board members following an hour-long executive session during Monday's bi-monthly meeting.
Superintendent Dr. Doug Bennett explained that keeping students in masks and continuing the COVID testing has proven advantageous for the school district and will remain "as is." He added that keeping students in school is the "gold standard" and the "Test to Stay" program that tests students and staff has benefitted the district since it was launched last month. He added that when students were sent home on March 13, 2020 and placed on virtual learning due to the pandemic, the rest was not a positive one for students and school staff.
"That has really had a negative impact on student learning and a variety of other things," he said. "Mental health, anxiety and a whole bunch. The Test to Stay has allowed scores of students and staff to stay in school and school is still in session in-person and that is the gold standard."
To further ensure the safety of all persons reporting to school, universal masks are recommended and is a policy that the Laurel County district will continue.
"In order to keep the Test to Stay and to stay in school, which is our primary objective, is to offer the highest quality of educational services for students that we can," Bennett said. "And to fulfill the requirements to keep the Test to Stay, then we have to maintain the implementation of universal masking. But our students are in school, our staff are in school, we're in person and we're learning. And we're having great results."
Board member Phillip Bundy said he realized that the universal masking may not work in every district but that he supported that decision for Laurel County.
"I'm 100% against wearing masks, but I'm 1,000% for staying in school," added board member John Begley.
To that, board chair Ed Jones said, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."
Another milestone was the unanimous vote to approve the 2022 tax rates, which reflect a reduction from last year's rates. Bennett said a public hearing was held for any comments regarding the proposed rates and received no feedback. He then said the tax rates would be 48.5 cents per $100 for real property; 48.5 for personal property and 46.3 for motor vehicles. The utility tax rate was listed at 3%. Board members said the reduced rates were for the second consecutive year.
Mrs. Mary King was also recognized during Monday's meeting. King, a teacher at South Laurel High School, received two awards for her leadership and impact on students and the community.
The Family Careers and Community Leaders of America Master Advisor award recognizes an outstanding teacher in their field for their efforts to educate and prepare students for careers. National Association of Teachers of Family and Consumer Sciences Award of Merit also awarded King with the award for her leadership.
Board members also approved several new positions within the school district. Those were: Title I teacher and preschool assistant at Colony Elementary; preschool teacher and preschool assistant teacher at Keavy; PASS Special Needs assistant at Hunter Hills; and three special needs assistants district-wide. Positions re-created included Family Resource Center Director for Hazel Green/Colony Elementary, cafeteria manager for South Laurel High, cafeteria manager for London Elementary, instructional assistant for Camp Ground Elementary, Family Resource Center Director for Cold Hill/Keavy Elementary and a microcomputer technology specialist for the school district.
Other items approved were:
• Christian Appalachian Project Inc. (CAP) Operation Sharing Gifts in kind recipient contract for 2021-2022 school year
• 2021-2022 Gear Up budget
• Revised 2020 Kentucky Clean Diesel Grant agreement
• Office of Vocational Rehabilitation Community Work Transition Program
• Student parade participation request; and
• Out of State/Overnight student travel requests