FORT KNOX, Ky. — Similar to other schools across America, Fort Knox Community Schools students will experience a wide array of new COVID-19 health and safety policies when they begin the 2020-21 schoolyear Aug. 24.“We are working super hard every single day preparing all the schools to be ready for in-person learning,” said Joshua Adams, Kentucky Community Superintendent at DoDEA Americas’ Southeast District. “Also, DoDEA as a system is working really hard to prepare and be ready for the students who are selected for the virtual school option.”“All the schools are absolutely locked in on — students at school will be doing either 6-feet of social distancing, and if that is not possible, the students will be wearing a mask.”Adams said he felt confident that most students should have enough space between desks within classrooms to be able to take off their masks once they sit down to learn. Those who don’t have the space, however, will be required to sit at their desks in masks throughout the day.“The schools are also working really hard on transitions; getting the kids on and off the busses and moved throughout the buildings in times that they have to move to ensure those safety precautions are there in place,” said Adams. “They are focused on all that.”Bussing can be a bigger concern than in classrooms, according to Adams, because the act of socially distancing is virtually impossible. As a result, students who ride busses will be required to wear masks from the point of entering the bus until they exit.“If you have a student who for any particular legitimate health reason cannot wear a mask, work with the school on that, and we will make a modification so that that student can social distance,” said Adams. “We may be making exceptions for family members to sit next to each other. The drivers will be carrying extra provided face coverings.”Recent sharp increases in COVID-19 cases in the region around Fort Knox have raised concerns among national and state leaders, leading members of the White House COVID-19 task force last week to add 20 counties to what they call the “Red Zone” list. The Red Zone is identified by those counties that have been identified with a 10% or higher positivity rate. On that list are Hardin and Jefferson counties.Adams joined senior leaders at Fort Knox Aug. 18 to address concerns raised by members of the community during a Facebook virtual town hall. Major Gen. John Evans Jr., commanding general of U.S. Army Cadet Command and Fort Knox, said he expected many questions to be raised concerning the start of the school year.“Despite recent spikes in COVID cases around the U.S. and in the region, Fort Knox has been able to sustain an environment that is relatively COVID-free,” said Evans. “I’m happy to say that in conjunction with our DoDEA partners, we will begin in-class instruction at all Fort Knox schools next Monday.”Prior to taking questions at the town hall, Evans said leaders will continue to monitor the situation at Fort Knox, even as they celebrate the start of school.“Allow me to impress upon both our student and parent population how imperative it is that you follow all screening guidance from DoDEA before sending your child to school,” said Evans.Adams said before the town hall that DoDEA has partnered with installation officials to provide guidance to teachers and administrators as needed. A team of experts from the garrison and medical communities will make regular visits to the schools to offer feedback on how best to follow DoDEA, Department of Defense and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance.“That’s a great thing; it’s a tremendous service to the schools,” said Adams. “It just deepens our partnership on addressing this between the garrison and DoDEA, and it’s setting up our students and staff for success.Updated guidance in the form of a recent DoDEA letter highlights those fall sports and activities that have been cancelled due to posing moderate to higher infection risks. These include football, wrestling, lacrosse, competition cheerleading in the higher risk category, and volleyball, basketball, baseball, softball, gymnastics, field hockey, theatre and all clubs and activities in the moderate risk category. Those activities include band and singing.Sports and activities still allowed for now are cross country, track and field, swimming, golf, tennis, debate and forensics, as well as the scholastic bowl and spelling bees.“DoDEA Americas will assess sports offerings for winter and spring as the seasons draw near,” states the letter.Officials at DoDEA have also released educational guidelines. Called “DoDEA COVID-19 Operational Guidelines and Protocols for Schools," the guidance addresses attendance, grading, operations at in-person schools as well as virtual school, DoDEA assessments and general school health and safety expectations. The document also addresses the procedures for symptomatic children in schools.Approximately 25% of students at all Fort Knox Schools will be taught virtually with the remainder attending the brick and mortar schools. Parents were given the option. DoDEA officials have designated the teachers who will teach virtual classes throughout the year.Unlike the in-person classes, virtual classes will have more flexibility in scheduling.“This is going to be great for those families, and we’re fully in support of that. We’ll stay connected to those kids, and they’ll have a great experience in the virtual school,” said Adams. “That is also somewhat helpful to us at the schools because it creates a little bit more space for us to do transitions, and to allow for social distancing.”Elementary school officials are working through plans to help their students work through the transition of wearing masks and socially distancing, according to Adams. Plans include working with children who are not able to wear a mask.“If a student as a medical reason that they can’t wear a mask, the schools are going to modify the situation for them. They might be in a situation where they are socially distanced in the classroom the whole day,” said Adams. “They’re going to work with kids that have a legit medical reason why they need support, but the elementary schools are really focused on working with the kids, helping them understand why we’re doing this, and that it’s the new norm.”Adams said it has helped that many young students have already been learning the lessons about masks and social distancing throughout the summer months at the Child Development Center.Other activities elementary students can look forward to, according to Adams, are recess and lunchtime.“They’ll have safety precautions in place at recess, but kids will be able to go outside,” said Adams. “As far as the lunchroom, it depends on the school. Some schools will have it set up so that students go pick up a lunch and return it to their classroom; that way, we can maintain social distancing.“Some schools have been able to set up their lunchrooms so that there’s room to social distance.”Adams said the schools are also prepared to provide school counseling to help children work through any difficulties they will face because of the virus restrictions. One of the biggest helps for all of it will come from parents.“This is a full team effort between families, students, garrison and DoDEA. All of us have a part to play in it,” said Adams. “The part that we need parents to play is, they need to pre-screen their students before school every single day. If it looks like their kid is sick in any way, shape or form, keep them home. We will support you with that. We have to do this together.“Safety is the number one priority for our students.”