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Education groups voice concern over COVID-19 guidance

Posted at 7:43 PM, Jul 07, 2020

FRANKFORT, Ky. (LEX 18) — Several Kentucky education groups publicized their concerns about the upcoming school year during a hearing with state lawmakers on Tuesday. The big concern is about returning to in-person instruction during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Kentucky Department of Education and the Kentucky Department of Public Health issued guidance for school districts. That includes expectations for schools to have students wear face masks if they can't maintain social distance, check students' temperatures, and deep clean and sanitize classrooms regularly.

With this guidance in mind, school districts across the state are coming up with plans for the 2020-2021 school year. However, there is no across-the-board answer for parents wanting to know what the upcoming school year will look like.

During the meeting, options like offering in-person and remote instruction for students were discussed. Education groups voiced their concern about pulling it all off.

The Kentucky School Boards Association is concerned about providing multiple methods of instruction.

"Being able to do that with the people and materials we need is one of our foremost absolute concerns," said Eric Kennedy, the group's governmental relations director.

Kennedy also told lawmakers that school districts worry about how the pandemic will impact their employees. The concern is that some employees may want to work from home, retire, or resign.

"One of the biggest issues is: will we have the staff that we need to open the school year," asked Kennedy.

The Kentucky Education Association expressed concern about overburdening teachers and staff with additional responsibilities.

"Educators are going to be asked to continue their regular routine but also take on distance learning, add additional time to their days to monitor students before and after school because of extended schedules, give up valuable planning time to cover classes due to the lack of subs, do temperature checks, maintain logs, help in contact-tracing, sanitize desks between classes, and in some cases sanitize their rooms after school - all of that with no additional compensation or no additional assurance of protection," said KEA president Eddie Campbell.

The Kentucky Association of School Superintendents voiced concern over the challenge of checking every student's temperature before school each day.

"All of the scientific evidence leads us to understand that many young people don't present symptoms, including temperatures," said KASS executive director Dr. Jim Flynn.

The Kentucky Department of Education has bought 12,500 digital thermometers for school districts. The Interim Education Commission, Kevin Brown, told lawmakers checking temperatures is not perfect, but it's the best plan recommended by health officials.

"We're hearing that is absolutely a must-have in order for us to have safe entry to schools," said Brown.

Another line of protection within schools will be face masks.

"It is an expectation, and it is going to have to happen. There will obviously be students that want to defy that, and that is going to be a very difficult classroom management obstacle," said Brown.

Brown said students are expected to wear masks if they can't be adequately distanced from one another due to space constraints. However, schools won't be strictly monitored for enforcement.

"These are not regulations. KDE is not going to be sending a mask police out there. Public Health is not going to send a mask police out there. However, this is in the best judgment of the public health officials - that wearing a mask is the expectation for you to have a child sitting in the classroom sitting less than six feet apart," said Brown.

Lawmakers also heard an update regarding high school athletics.

Kentucky High School Athletic Association Commissioner Julian Tackett said the KHSAA board will meet Friday to discuss reopening guidelines for fall sports.

"We are looking at having fall sports," said Tackett. "We are still planning for fall sports. What that looks like could change, just like the data related to the virus changes."