By Drew Bergman
On Tuesday Kentucky’s Interim Joint Committee on Education received updates from the members of the Kentucky Association of School Superintendents, the Kentucky School Board Association, the Kentucky Education Association, the Kentucky High School Athletic Association and the Kentucky Department of Education.
Senator Max Wise, Chair of the Senate Education Committee, chaired Tuesday’s two-hour informational meeting. With the time constraints, the senator gave only the briefest of opening remarks before turning the floor over to the witnesses. “All eyes are right now are probably on Frankfort with this meeting as we get ready to start the school year,” he said.
“The goal,” said Eric Kennedy of the KSBA, should be to have as much instruction as possible, minimizing the risk of COVID-19 transmission. At this point you can’t eradicate risk entirely, everyone knows, but we have to mitigate it.”
Kennedy spoke to staffing shortages across the state, in the classroom as well as in other school staffing areas, including a critical shortage of bus drivers. “The best instruction for the most students, at this point, that we are capable of providing is in-person.”
While some older students may get the same effect learning independently at a distance, most students, especially younger ones, do much better with in-person instruction. Beyond the way it helps facilitate quality interactions with teachers, being in-person is key to so much of the socialization and interpersonal development that children experience.
Alongside the concerns over safety and staffing were worries over school and school board liability in the event of an outbreak. US Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell has spoken recently to that issue of providing what he is calling reasonable legal protection for schools from liability claims.
Dr. Jim Flynn, the Executive Director of the KASS emphasized that what schools need most going forward is flexibility in funding. Schools are not only schools, he told lawmakers, they are also centers of civic and economic life for their communities. Dr. Flynn noted that many schools have already spent their CARES and GEERS money and will undoubtedly need more support going forward.
Dr. Flynn has concerns going forward not only about large scale questions such as moving forward with the inevitable outbreaks and how students that find themselves quarantined are to be expected to continue their education, but also simple logistical ones such as how schools can best all the necessary checks and screenings throughout the day and the additional stressors that will fall on the shoulders of teachers.
Eddie Campbell, Choir Director for middle and high school in Knox County and current president of the KEA spoke about conversations he’s had with educators about their concerns heading into the fall.