Graves schools floor photo

The floors at Graves County district schools, like this at Farmington Elementary, have stickers designating a six-foot buffer for social distancing.

As the spring semester gets underway for Graves County Schools, administrators are continuing to monitor numbers for any areas impacted by COVID-19 restrictions or quarantines.

Graves County began the semester Monday with both in-person and virtual instruction for their students. Superintendent Matthew Madding said the district’s staff and many of their departments are in good shape in terms of availability in relation to the current pandemic. The only area Madding said was “tight” was with the district’s transportation department.

“We’ve got an awesome department and they did a great job of a covering all our routes (Monday) and we’ve got a plan to keep them covered moving forward,” he said.

Graves County was one of a handful of Purchase area school districts that resumed in-person instruction on Jan. 4. Other districts were delaying the start until Jan. 11. Mayfield Independent’s school board had decided in December to start with non-traditional instruction (NTI) on Jan. 4 and resume in-person classes on Jan. 11.

Madding said it was good to see the students back in the school district’s buildings after being on NTI since late November. “We believe, and I think every educator would say the exact same thing, the best instruction takes place in our buildings and the faculty and staff have done a tremendous job implementing all our mitigation strategies up to this point, and we believed we were ready to open our doors back to our students.”

After going through an unprecedented fall semester with a global pandemic affecting numerous aspects of education, local school administrators have started a second semester with a few adjustments to in-person learning. One aspect is the use of masks for kindergartners when they are not able to maintain six feet of distance between classmates and teachers.

Madding said the district had not required kindergartners to wear masks, as that was a decision the Healthy at Schools guidelines left to individual school districts. But with Graves County still in the “red zone” category for positive coronavirus cases, administrators with Graves County schools felt it would offer an additional layer of protection for students and staff.

Another regards updated contact tracing guidelines from the Graves County Health Department to determine who would or would not need to be quarantined in the event of being around someone who was positive with the COVID virus.

Madding said the guidelines make masks “more valuable” to reduce the number of students who may have to be quarantined.

“Masking hasn’t been a problem in our buildings and was one of the things this summer I was concerned with,” he said. “Our students have risen to the occasion and it’s been a huge positive for us. Now, if we do have a positive in the building and people are wearing masks properly, we won’t have to have as many students or faculty members who have to quarantine if their masks are being worn.”

He said contact tracing situations tended to stem from classrooms at the middle and high school levels being smaller than those at the county’s elementary schools. “We were having larger numbers of students who had to go into the quarantine because they were near someone who was positive.”

He said that adjustment on contact tracing and masking from the fall into this semester should be helpful, “but we know we have to continue to the agile. We plan to stay in-person the rest of the semester, but we know we have to continue to be ready to make changes when we see changes need to be made.”

And the autonomy from school to school on some minor issues has also helped. Madding said the district has a blanket guideline related to teaching during the pandemic, but they have also allowed individual schools to adjust some procedures which may work best for their schools’ students and operations.

As for online learning, the district is currently at 19% participation, compared to 24% when the fall semester started. Madding said the main adjustment has been with support. He said they are rather limited with staff and have allowed individual schools to address support issues.

“We don’t have a district-wide, ‘it needs to look like this,’ ” he said. “We have a district-wide curriculum we’re using, but the way we go about with staffing and support may look different building to building.”

However, Madding said the biggest question related to virtual learning is how it will continue to evolve.

“I don’t think it will go away,” he said. “Some form of virtual instruction will continue even after the pandemic ends. The way we staff that and support our learners, that will look very different in future years.”