Interim Education Com­­mis­­sioner Kevin C. Brown said June 22 dur­ing the Ken­tucky De­part­ment of Ed­u­­ca­tion’s Super­in­ten­dents Ad­visory Council the Healthy at School guidance from the Kentucky De­part­ment of Public Health is set to be re­leas­ed today by Gov. Andy Be­shear during his 4 p.m. news conference.

Brown was joined by Dr. Connie White, deputy commissioner of DPH, to listen to feedback from the council on how districts are preparing to implement reopening plans once the Healthy at School guidance document is released.

Much of the conversation with White revolved around DPH’s recommendation schools require both faculty and students to wear masks in the school building when social distancing is not possible.

As more studies on COVID-19 become available by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other reputable sources, the release said it has become clear masking may be the best way to mitigate the spread of the virus.

Recently, Hardin County Schools reached out to the public to help supply 5,000 masks to the district should there be a need.

“ ... We are well into the mode of preparing for the 2020-21 school year,” Superintendent Teresa Morgan said in a news release. “We don’t know exactly what the guidelines will be, but we fully expect our students and staff might be asked to wear masks. We don’t know that for sure but we have to be ready for it.”

Todd Allen, interim general counsel for KDE, said schools will need a clear policy or procedure for how to respond when a student refuses to wear a mask.

“We certainly wouldn’t physically force a mask on any student,” he said, adding teachers and staff need to know how to respond from their local districts.

Brown said he understands the difficult decisions superintendents will have to make when it comes to safely reopening schools.

White said it will be the expectation of DPH to ensure students and faculty are masked. There are exceptions for students who have heart conditions, asthma or other underlying conditions.

White recommends districts use a studen’s medical records to determine when they cannot be masked in the school.

Brown told the superintendents on the council it will be a “statewide effort” to support mask-wearing until a vaccine is made available.

Dr. Steven Stack, commissioner of DPH, previously said May 27 during the Special Superintendents’ Web­cast, a vaccine will not be available until at least 2021.

“We know you can’t have a mask on every child at every minute,” Brown said. “Public health has recognized that in their guidance.”

The Healthy at School guidance document from DPH will recommend students and faculty distance themselves a minimum of 6 feet. If this distance cannot be achieved, they will be expected to wear masks.

Woodford County Superintendent Scott Hawkins explained that, at least with his district, it will be “next to impossible to do 6 feet apart in a classroom” and districts “will be shocked at the number of people who won’t send their kids back if they have to wear a mask for six or seven hours a day.”

Franklin County Superintendent Mark Kopp, a former Hardin County Schools chief academic officer, said his district is considering a phased-in approach. Phase I would be 100 percent online during the first nine weeks. One day per week during this phase, students could voluntarily come to school to seek assistance on instruction.

Kopp said the available days in the week would be spaced apart to limit the number of students coming into the school buildings. After fall break, the district would enter Phase II, which would be a hybrid approach which will have both in-person and online instruction.

As districts begin to plan their instructional method for the 2020-21 school year, Associate Commissioner Robin Kinney of KDE’s Office of Finance and Operations told the advisory council she does not want money to influence their decisions.

When determining the 2020-21 Support Education Excellence in Kentucky funding – the primary money source for districts – districts were allowed flexibility from the passage of SB 177 (2020) to choose whether they wanted to submit their 2018-19 or 2019-20 school year attendance data for calculations.

Kinney said 14 of Kentucky’s 172 public school districts decided to use their 2019-20 data for 2020-21 funding purposes, feeling this data was an accurate portrayal for their district.

She said that instead of counting attendance next school year, districts will need to count participation.

If students are in the classroom, participation will be counted if they are present. If the school is using remote learning, participation can be counted by logging in to their device or similar methods.

Kinney encouraged the superintendents to continue to pursue technological opportunities for these students, but said it may not be possible to provide for every student.

She said the plan would be to provide a participation report to the Legislative Research Commission at the end of the school year to show the participation by the state’s school districts.

“You can bank on the fact that you’re going to have an alternative way that we can flow funding to you for this next school year because of this unique situation,” Brown said.

He said the next school year could be used as a “conversation starter in the next General Assembly about the future of education funding.”

“We will have a small taste of a little bit of an alternative because of next semester and the unique challenges,” Brown said. “But, obviously, long-term it would take action from the General Assembly to change the overall SEEK formula.”

The advisory council is scheduled to meet again July 20, but may meet July 6 to discuss the Healthy at School guidance document.

Andrew Harp can be reached at 270-505-1747 or aharp@thenewsenterprise.com.

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