Conversations continue on what K-12 education will look like in Kentucky this fall, amid the COVID-19 pandemic | Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence
Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence

Conversations continue on what K-12 education will look like in Kentucky this fall, amid the COVID-19 pandemic

All Kentucky school districts have spent the spring and summer planning and surveying parents and talking to teachers about what the Fall semester of K-12 public education should look like amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Now that back-to-school season is a little more than a month away, we have more clarity on what education will look like during this unprecedented time. In late June, the Kentucky Department of Education released its “Healthy at School” guidance, which offers both best practices and requirements for schools to implement.

Many districts, like my hometown in Rockcastle County, have released their back-to-school plans that are largely a mix of both in-person and virtual options for students, and are planning first days on Aug. 26. In-person classes will include health precautions like temperature checks, desks that are 6 feet apart, sanitized classrooms, and personal protective equipment (PPE).

While health and safety measures are non-negotiable during the pandemic, debates continue around many other items, from the quality of non-traditional instruction, to teacher sick time, to funding, to teacher shortages, and assessments. On Tuesday, the Interim Joint Committee on Education met to hear testimony on these topics from the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE), the Kentucky School Boards Association (KSBA), the Kentucky Association of School Principals (KASS), and the Kentucky Education Association (KEA).

Eric Kennedy, government relations director for KSBA, said legal questions still remain for local school boards such as whether or not a school board should require attendance in both in-person and virtual learning situation, and how to address privacy concerns when students are live-streaming teacher instruction.

Eddie Campbell, president of KEA, said additional stimulus funding for schools must be prioritized for COVID related expenses like PPE, sanitizing products and distance learning tools. He stressed that by returning to classrooms, teachers are taking health risks and should be considered front line workers.

Dr. Jim Flynn, executive director of KASS, said district superintendents are supportive of another legislative measure similar to Senate Bill 177 that would waive the 170 student attendance day minimum this year, regardless of when the first instructional day occurs. He said flexibility on funding, hours in a school day and days in a school year will be crucial for a successful year.

The Kentucky Department of Education has created a plan that relies on funding provisions outlined in Senate Bill 177 and create the funding structure for the 2020-2021 school year. According to Interim Commissioner Kevin Brown, this allows the funding structure to be temporary and flexible, and it does not incentivize or discourage decisions for in-person or remote instruction. The state board of education plans to issue an emergency regulation codifying this new plan later this week.

According to KDE, during the COVID-19 closure in the 2019-20 school year, 6,240 NTI days were used across the districts to provide instruction to students, and participation rates remained strong at 90%. However, many educators and parents have voiced concern over the learning loss that likely occurred during that time, especially for those students who had limited access to online learning opportunities.

Representative James Tipton asked panelists about what districts are doing to prepare to remediate student learning loss. Flynn said districts are currently looking at plans for assessments and how to support students that need more assistance.

We’re pleased to see these conversations occurring in Frankfort and at the local level across the state. We will continue this dialogue on an upcoming episodes of “Innovations in Education” July 22 with superintendents from Ballard and Rockcastle Counties, and a principal from Fayette County Public Schools. We will also discuss ways to bring more internet access to rural and low-income students in our July 15 episode.