Legislative Update …

Posted June 9, 2020 at 1:23 pm

Challenges with COVID-19 and school this fall

A legislative panel was briefed this week on the challenges COVID-19 poses to reopening public schools across the state.

On Tuesday, the Interim Joint Committee on Education heard from Oldham County School Superintendent Greg Schultz. He explained his want for reopening public schools, as they are a significant part of the economy. But he also expressed his concerns in regards to COVID-19 and the risk of bringing our students back into the classroom, noting that social distancing, frequent hand washing, and mask requirements would present unique challenges to each grade level.

Schultz added that it is also crucial that we consider the additional responsibilities required of our teachers when schools open. They will be asked to play the role of lunchroom monitor as students eat in classrooms and janitors as they frequently sanitize their rooms, all while continuously monitoring the wellness of their students. These added duties spark concern due to the ongoing teacher shortage, the aging teacher population, and the overall complexity of the virus.

There is also the question of what to do with students who have or live with someone with a compromised immune system. With teachers back in the classrooms, there would be fewer instructors available to provide distance learning to those students.

That’s all in addition to concerns regarding state funding models based on attendance and liability issues around COVID-19.

As the Senate Education Chairman, and as a father, this multi-faceted discussion is of the utmost importance to me. These uncertain times have presented us with difficult challenges when it comes to the reopening of our schools. We must keep our students, teachers, and school personnel as healthy and as safe as possible, and we should be establishing these plans sooner rather than later. However, these guidelines must be realistic, well-thought-out, and otherwise doable, while also following ideal health protocols.

I recently sent a letter to the Governor proposing an advisory group made up of a few stakeholders, including parents, to help the state develop a clear plan for our educators to follow. This group would assist in the decision-making and planning process, and ultimately present their reopening guideline recommendations to the Governor. This group should meet regularly and determine if any changes to these guidelines need to be adjusted as this situation continues to evolve.

Additionally, I believe including one legislator from the House and Senate as ad hoc members would be beneficial to the overall discussion.

I have not yet heard back from the Governor’s Office on my proposal to prioritize school reopening plans with an advisory group. In the meantime, I look forward to continuing these discussions with the Education Committee and the legislature. Our educators have already navigated steep paths to continue to instruct Kentucky’s children during this pandemic. We should do everything we can to ensure that their transition back to the classroom is as responsible and safe as possible. I will be sure to keep you updated as reopening plans develop.

If you have any questions or comments about these issues or any other public policy issue, please call the toll-free line at 1-800-372-7181 or email me at Max.Wise@LRC.ky.gov.

Note: Senator Max Wise (R-Campbellsville) represents the 16th District which encompasses Adair, Clinton, Cumberland, McCreary, Russell, Taylor, and Wayne Counties. He is the chairman of the Education Committee; as well as co-chairman of the Education Assessment and Accountability Review Subcommittee. Senator Wise is also a member of the Senate Economic Development, Tourism and Labor Committee; the Health and Welfare Committee; the Veterans, Military Affairs, and Public Protection Committee; the Public Assistance Reform Task Force; the Budget Review Subcommittee on Economic Development and Tourism, Natural Resources and Environmental Protection, and the Budget Review Subcommittee on Transportation.