FRANKFORT, Ky. (WYMT) - The Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) is encouraging school districts to be "flexible" when considering the start of the upcoming school year during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Interim Education Commissioner Kevin Brown told superintendents that Governor Beshear and Lieutenant Governor Coleman want to ensure that both the KDE and local school districts plan for multiple scenarios that could play out before and after the start of the 2020-2021 school year.
Brown says planning is already underway even though many unknowns remain about what a new school year might look like for schools across the Commonwealth.
“The good news is we have some time to plan; the bad news is we don’t know exactly what we’re planning for,” Brown said. “We need every district to be nimble and to be able to adjust to what could be a changing public health landscape in the fall.”
Brown says the Governor and Lieutenant Governor want the KDE and its districts to consider three possibilities for when the next school year might start:
-An early start, perhaps as early as late July
-A traditional start
-A late start, perhaps after Labor Day
Brown says an early start could let districts begin the year with in-person instruction if a dip in COVID-19 cases permits, with the possibility of suspending in-person classes if cases spike in the fall.
Brown told the superintendents they might want to consider asking their local boards of education to approve multiple calendars to prepare for these different scenarios.
In-person classes are something many superintendents are hoping for.
"I think there's an opportunity for students to learn when there's non traditional instruction," said Scott County Superintendent Kevin Hub in an interview with sister-station WKYT.. "But there are so many little nuances that our effective teachers use to help students learn that are lost through technology."
Kevin Brown says districts should be prepared to adapt to changing circumstances near or after the beginning of the school year.
“We don’t know that any of this will occur, but we need in a time of a global pandemic to be prepared,” Brown said.
He also says starting in-person classes could come with several changes that have to be made in the interest of the health and safety of both students and faculty.
Districts would have to add new social distancing guidelines, something superintendents say might not be feasible.
"Some of the things that come to mind is that students would be in close proximity to one another on the school buses as well as some larger settings such as the cafeteria," says Jessamine County superintendent Matt Moore.
The KDE says those changes could include the use of social distancing both in the school buildings and on buses.
He adds the KDE is working alongside the Council of Chief State School Officers and the Southern Regional Educational Board as it develops guidance.
Brown says planning will continue in the coming weeks and months. He says the planning will involve districts and partner groups, but the decisions will ultimately be made at the local level.
“We’re not going to dictate from the department what your calendar looks like,” he said. “We’re just telling you about things you’re going to have to be prepared for if the public health landscape changes.”
He says the discussion will continue in greater detail in the next superintendents' webcast to be held on May 12.
The KDE says the superintendents were told the state received approval for the largest portion of the money the state will receive for elementary and secondary education from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
Kentucky is slated to receive $193.2 million from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund.
The fund aims to provide local education agencies with emergency funds to address the impact of COVID-19 on elementary and secondary schools.