Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman addressed reopening schools and efforts to help school districts Thursday, as many students across the commonwealth will resume instruction this month amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Coleman, who’s also secretary of the Education & Workforce Development Cabinet, served as the featured speaker Thursday for the Paducah Area Chamber of Commerce’s August Power in Partnership Breakfast. She participated via Zoom, sharing information about Kentucky’s “Healthy at School” guidelines and steps taken to alleviate barriers for school districts, allowing them more flexibility.
“We worked in conjunction with the Department of Education — we created an Education Continuation Task Force that gave their input on this, and that included everyone from superintendents to faculty and staff to legislators,” she said.
“Every stakeholder was represented in this group because we wanted to make sure that we thought about the school experience from every perspective, since it was going to be very, very different than what we had known before. We have worked to make sure that our districts have flexibility — that was the key for me personally, was to allow flexibility.”
In particular, Coleman praised school superintendents in the state for doing a “phenomenal job” of serving communities, faculty and staff, students and families and basically saying to them, “What will work for you?” and “What can we do to meet you, meet your child’s needs and to meet you where you are?”
Coleman said the state waived a cap on non-traditional instruction days, while it gave school districts the opportunity to extend unlimited coronavirus-related emergency days for teachers and staff for the purpose of quarantine.
It also removed an “average daily attendance requirement” used for school funding.
“Our statutes for education are written as if every single student is in the building or every student is out of the building,” she said. “For instance ... snow days would be a good example of that. Our school funding is tied to our attendance, so if we only had certain kids in school some days and certain kids in school other days, that would impact our schools financially and they would not be able to operate the way that we need them to.”
Schools can use previous years’ attendance as their mechanism for continuing to receive school funding, allowing them — if needed — to go to an A/B schedule or some type of hybrid schedule, Coleman said.
”We continue to lead the nation in our response, but also in our educational response, by making sure that our superintendents, our principals, our teachers, our staff have the resources that they need to be successful,” she later added.
She acknowledged that “none of this is ideal” and it’s going to difficult for families and school districts.
“We constantly think about, you know, how are we going to adjust our schedules, how are we going to make this work and what I would tell you is, it takes a village,” she said.
Following Coleman’s address, local superintendents Steve Carter and Donald Shively, of McCracken County and Paducah schools, took questions from chamber President Sandra Wilson. They discussed starting school again on Aug. 24, what it’ll look like and steps to protect students, faculty and staff.
“You’ll see a lot of touchless thermometers,” Carter said.
“When students get on buses, we’ll be adding staff to our buses to help alleviate that strain from our bus drivers in recording those. We’ll have unique pickup spots and drop-off spots within our school zones, in order to isolate entry points and exit points of our buildings.”
Shively also touched on safety measures in Paducah schools, noting that “if you’re moving, you’re masking.”
“As you get on a bus, we’re going to have to have a mask on,” he said. “You’re going to have a temperature check as you walk in the front door — if you’re getting dropped off or if you’re driving as a high school junior or senior — there’s going to be a temperature check and a mask on.”
The superintendents also gave the latest breakdown for school in-person instruction versus at-home virtual instruction. Students and their families have the option to choose.
Carter reported that about 25% are virtual and 75% are in-person in McCracken schools, while Shively said Paducah schools are at 90% for responses on in-person or at-home instruction with 51% in-person and 49% virtual, as of Wednesday night.