New Fayette Superintendent Demetrus Liggins said Monday on his first day on the job that requirements for in-person school this fall will be his first major decision and top priority.
Liggins said he did not have a timeline for an announcement, but “hopefully... sooner than later we’ll get that information out to our families. “ Classes begin for the 2021-2022 school year August 11.
“We are definitely committed to making sure that we have in-person school,” said Liggins. That said, he called the increase in COVID cases and the Delta variant “an ever-evolving situation.”
Liggins said he has discussed mask policies and vaccine data, but final decisions for fall on who will wear masks and how students will learn if they are quarantined have not been made. Liggins said he would take the advice of health professionals.
He’s meeting with the district COVID Core team and local heath officials Tuesday. Gov. Andy Beshear is set to discuss COVID school policies at a 4 p.m. news conference Monday.
“The health of students and our staff is of the utmost importance. We are looking at all options at this point,” Liggins said. “The last thing we want to do is to release information and then have to change it.”
“I think our students suffered tremendously last year with their learning because of the at- home learning. I think our teachers, staff really suffered in their instructional practices because they were learning as they went along,” said Liggins.
“I just want to make sure that this year we can put systems into place to make sure students continue to be in person --to make sure that the lessons we learned from last year and the innovation that was brought on because of COVID continue and to make sure that we have opportunities to impact every student at every level to ensure their success,” he said.
Liggins said it was a huge responsibility to help students get caught up.
Liggins said he could not envision mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations for students at this point, “but again, I’m an educator, I’m not a health professional.” He said as vaccinations are mandatory for students for other diseases, COVID-19 vaccinations could one day be mandatory.
He said he didn’t envy parents who have tough decisions to make regarding COVID and their children’s education.
“It’s a very difficult situation that we are in. It’s unprecedented and no one really has the answers to what exactly they should do or should not do,” Liggins said.
Liggins held a morning group meeting with reporters at the district’s Central Office on Park Place.
“You can expect us to be a transparent administration that communicates with our families and communities and that keeps students’ success as our top priority,” he said.
Liggins, 44, was previously the superintendent in the Greenville, Texas, Independent School district.
Liggins met with principals on Monday. Since the district’s Summer Ignite classes are in session, Liggins said he will soon be meeting with students, staff, teachers, and families.
On topics other than the coronavirus:
▪ Liggins said that critical race theory is not being taught in the school district and he has heard of no plans to add it. Bans against critical race theory in Kentucky schools are the subject of pre-filed state legislation. The issue has been controversial this summer across the nation.
▪ He said the district has to acknowledge the achievement gap between minority students and others and to pay attention to students who are struggling. Teachers need support from administrators to help students and families, he said.
▪ Liggins said he thinks he can have an impact in Fayette County and he wants to continue the work of the late Manny Caulk, the Fayette superintendent who died in December while on medical leave. Liggins said he thinks people in the district will continue to mourn Caulk’s loss this school year.
▪ Liggins said he was familiar with the latest crime spurt in Lexington among youth. Liggins said that Fayette County Public Schools will need to be partners with police and other organizations in the community to help violence decrease among students and young people in Lexington.
Liggins said people in Lexington have been welcoming on his recent trips to the district.
“It’s really beginning to feel like home,” he said.