(The Center Square) – As Kentucky heads into Labor Day weekend, it will do so with nearly 20% of its public school districts having been closed or are closed due to the COVID pandemic- 19.
Harrison County Schools and Mayfield Independent Schools said on Friday they would switch to non-traditional education (NTI) next week due to their number of COVID-19 and quarantine cases. Harrison County plans to use NTI all next week, and Mayfield is looking to use it on Tuesday and Wednesday.
According to the Kentucky School Boards Association, 33 of the state’s 171 districts (19.3%) have temporarily closed in-person instruction during the first month of class due to the coronavirus.
Similar to Harrison County, a few other districts have announced they will remain closed until next week due to the number of students and staff who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or are in quarantine after meeting a person who tested positive.
The number of school closures is a sign that the increase in COVID-19 cases is hitting Kentucky particularly hard. Governor Andy Beshear announced that 5,457 new cases had been reported on Thursday; the second-highest one-day total since the pandemic began almost 18 months ago.
During his COVID-19 briefing on Thursday, Beshear said cases in children had increased significantly. He showed a graph showing that people aged 18 and under accounted for around 2,500 cases in August 2020. For August 2021, that total was approaching 20,000.
Children now account for about 25% of COVID-19 cases in Kentucky.
“This is why we are seeing these school closures,” Beshear said. “This is why we are seeing more children in the hospital. This is why we will ultimately lose more children nationwide. “
As more education leaders have called for keeping children at home, it brings the discussion back to NTI, an issue many believed the state would no longer have to consider as a long-term option. .
The General Assembly passed a law earlier this year limiting school districts to 10 days of non-traditional learning. The legislation required that any days used for NTI, also known as virtual learning, beyond 10, should be made up by the end of the school year.
Without catching up on those days, school districts would risk losing state funding.
As lawmakers wait to be summoned to a special session to determine which emergency regulations to keep in place, some education officials are hoping that an extension or waiver for additional NTI days will be considered.
Beshear said on Thursday he could recall lawmakers in Frankfurt as early as Tuesday, but that depends on how negotiations with Republican lawmakers go.
A spokesperson for the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) told Center Square on Tuesday that Commissioner Dr Jason Glass supported measures that would give superintendents and school boards more options for the school year .
“Commissioner Glass encourages lawmakers to pass statutory changes to allow for greater operational flexibility during the current school year and greater funding stability in the future, as school districts strive to manage and recovering from COVID-19 related disruptions ”, KDE, Deputy Director of Communications, Jennifer. Ginn said.
To prepare for the next special session, the Legislative Assembly’s Interim Joint Committee on Education held a hearing on Wednesday to learn from principals what they need.
Green County Schools Superintendent Will Hodges told the committee his district has implemented a rapid testing strategy to keep its central Kentucky district operational.
State Senator Max Wise, Republican from Campbellsville and co-chair of the panel, opened the meeting by saying the goal should be to maintain as many school instructions as possible and ensure safety.
“Last year we know what COVID-19 has done to a lot of our school children,” said Wise, who noted that many children struggled with virtual learning and parents complained about it. how it interfered with their work schedules.