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Fayette County is in the COVID red zone. Will district schools mask up again?

Paul Ratje/AP
FR171815 AP

The school year hasn’t started in Fayette County, but the debate over COVID policy has.

The district finds itself in a familiar spot — facing pressure and questions about how it expects to handle COVID-19 precautions this year. While Fayette County schools went mask-optional back in March, the pandemic is again ramping up in the commonwealth, leading the Jefferson County school system to mandate masks while that county is in the high risk red category.

Right now, Fayette is also in the red zone, but hasn’t acted to change its mask policy. Some teachers are even concerned that a required convocation event in August at Rupp Arena could spread the virus.

"God forbid we should have a lot of school personnel enjoy the convocation and then test positive and that screw up our opening of school," Chuck Eddy said during public comment at the end of Monday’s school board meeting.

Eddy's not alone in worrying the mask-optional event could cause problems. Laura Hartke, an organizer for the union Kentucky 120United, has said full masking should be in effect at the gathering, according to the Lexington Herald Leader.

Fayette Superintendent Demetrus Liggins has said the health and safety of employees and students remains the number one priority and data show “very little transmission on the school bus and during school assemblies,” even with the mask-optional policy.

Teachers attending the Rupp convocation will be given welcome packets with masks and supplied hand sanitizer.

In Louisville, superintendent Marty Pollio says his district — the largest in the state — is going to stick with CDC guidelines. Those call for well-fitting masks in all indoor public settings, including K-12 schools.

But the policy may be more touch and go this year, with Jefferson County schools going mask-optional when the county is yellow or green, but "if we are in that red category, based on CDC guidance, we will automatically masking for that week at a minimum."

And as with past years, there are new factors to consider: while health authorities are contending with a more contagious subvariant, vaccines are now available for all age groups from 6 months up.

Josh James fell in love with college radio at Western Kentucky University's student station, New Rock 92 (now Revolution 91.7). After working as a DJ and program director, he knew he wanted to come home to Lexington and try his hand in public radio.