LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - From kindergarten to high school, when students start class again in the fall, life will certainly be different. Leaders across the commonwealth said Tuesday they’re working now to prepare for that, but add there are a lot of concerns they have about the next school year. Some of those issues can only be met by the federal government, but others can be affected by Kentucky legislators.
The Interim Joint Committee on Education met both virtually and in-person Tuesday to listen to educators in advance of the school year and next legislative session.
Speakers largely attended via video chat. Remote COVID-19 precautions like that are something teachers had to adapt to on the fly last spring, and industry leaders claim they will continue to present challenges in days ahead.
"From logistics to personnel to financial," Jim Flynn, the Executive Director of the Kentucky Association of School Superintendents, said.
Those from the Kentucky School Board Association echoed those concerns stating staffing and materials will be strained in the 2020-2021 school year.
The difficulty and cost of getting PPE, distance learning materials like tablets, and taking temperatures is also an issue the Kentucky Association of School Superintendents discussed.
The KSBA does note though that they believe in-person learning is the best route forward.
“The best instruction for the most students, at this point, that we are capable of providing is in-person,” Eric Kennedy, the KSBA Director of Governmental Relations, said. “KSBA’s sort of default position is to provide options. However, as much as possible, provide in-person instruction.”
Multiple education groups are fearful the virus will exacerbate teacher and other staff shortages because those eligible to retire may do, so or other teachers may walk away until cases of the virus decrease.
Another common demand to Frankfort from speakers was to provide more flexibility.
Those calls for action at the state level span requirements surrounding the school calendar, funding, teacher sick days related to COVID-19, state testing, instructional minutes and certifications.
The Kentucky Department of Education has laid out guidelines including mask requirements for students in first grade and up. KDE Interim Commissioner Kevin Brown said those rules are not enforceable regulations, but strong suggestions to keep students safe. Education groups said teachers have raised concerns about how to deal with students who refuse to wear masks.
"I don't have an easy answer, unfortunately, about what do we do with an individual situation, other than what teachers and principals do already to deal with students who are not compliant or don't want to participate or are disruptive," Brown said.
Another major point discussed was the possible loss of learning students may have been dealt with due to remote education, and how to measure that moving forward.
Kentucky high schools are planning for fall sports right now, but football Friday nights probably won’t look the same. Kentucky High School Athletic Association Commissioner Julian Tackett said changes are being discussed, but a lot has yet to be set in stone.
Tackett said risks have to be balanced, adding that includes both the risk of COVID-19 infection and what he states is the risk of not having the drop out prevention that sports provide in a lot of districts. He adds the Association is planning for fall sports, but monitoring the virus to see if it needs to make changes.
Possible precautions discussed, by not yet approved or implemented, include flipping seasons to move higher risk sports to the spring and lower risk athletics to the fall.
KHSAA is also evaluating the risks of contact sports. Tackett said basketball appears to be riskier than football because it’s played indoors. He mentioned shortened games and practices and increased ventilation as possible precautions.
The commissioner noted some collegiate football players are starting to use mask-like coverings in their helmets.
Interim Joint Committee on Education Chair Senator Max Wise, (R-Campbellsville), said he’s glad to hear sports will be returning in the fall.
"I think we also, at many times, need to get our mind off of things," Wise said. "Not that we shouldn't have discussions, deep-hearted discussions, and dialog about certain issues that are happening around the country, but I think one way we can also look to come back as a county is through sports."
Tackett said travel to out of state contests will need to be reevaluated by school boards at the local level, adding a more formal discussion about the future of high school sports will be had at the end of the week.