Before the local public school districts went back to mandatory face masks at their facilities beginning last Monday, Head Start facilities were told to make mask-wearing mandatory at their facilities beginning Nov. 30.

The Kentucky Head Start Association issued a letter dated Nov. 29 to Head Start facilities across the state — including the Paducah Head Start — detailing the requirement to administrators and staff.

The letter also listed a Jan. 31 deadline for all Head Start and Early Head Start staff to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

The Head Start masking mandate requires anyone age 2 and older to wear masks in Head Start facilities and vehicles where there are two or more people. It also requires masks in outdoor settings for those who are not fully vaccinated.

Federal law allows exemptions in some circumstances for disabled people, those with a medical condition or those who have sincere religious beliefs about vaccinations or masks.

Masking is also not required when children and staff members are eating or drinking.

Paducah Head Start provides masks for those who do not have them when they visit the facility, as the mandate covers those visiting Head Start facilities as well.

Paducah Head Start Director Kristy Lewis said her facility is a part of the Paducah Independent School District, but it also follows rules set down by the federal Office of Head Start, which is under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“What our universal masking requirement entails is that it is part of our Head Start performance standards,” she said. “Our Head Start performance standards guide everything that we do, in and out of our programs.

“This interim rule allows us to get a comment period as well — we can provide comment on how it affects our children in the classroom, how it affects staff and our contractors that we partner with — but in the end, we have to abide by it.”

Lewis said Head Start staff are also required to follow masking guidelines provided by the CDC.

“For us, that means that it needs to be a two-ply mask, that it’s got to cover the nose and mouth, that it’s got to have the wire piece to help seal at the top and that the side is controlled as well,” she said.

Lewis said until the national Head Start mandate came out last week, the facility was able to follow the local health committee’s decision.

“For me, the most important piece is having the kids in person, and if that means that I’m going to wear a mask, I’m going to wear it every day,” she said. “Is it hard? Yeah. It’s probably not on the top of my list of things I would choose to do — and I understand that, and I think other people in the community do — but my No. 1 goal is to have a healthy and safe environment for our kids, our staff, our community. So, I’ll do whatever it takes.”

Lewis said there are some programs across the nation working on a virtual basis or under a different type of model.

“We do have one virtual classroom right now for us, but starting in January, all of our virtual children will come back in person because we feel like we’ve been able to provide the health and safety to support our children to be in person,” she said.

“We’ve been able to cohort children together so they stay safe, and we’re making sure that we’re following our cleaning protocols. We’ve taken several steps to ensure that we have a safe environment.”

Paducah Head Start Preschool works to prepare children age 3 and 4 for the school experience when they go to kindergarten.

Paducah Head Start has 189 students enrolled at its facility and is funded for 237 children, full-time and part-time. For more information, call 270-444-5780.

Follow David B. Snow on Twitter, @SunWithSnow, or on Facebook at facebook.com/sunwithsnow.

Follow David B. Snow on Twitter, @SunWithSnow, or on Facebook at facebook.com/sunwithsnow.

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