Dear Kentucky Public School Families:
Last Friday, the governor had a conference call with superintendents to request that all schools stay closed until April 20. I want you to know that decisions like these are not taken lightly. These steps to limit areas where large groups of people gather are absolutely necessary to help limit the spread of COVID-19 among all Kentucky residents, and especially among our state’s most at-risk groups.
With this request, it became obvious that the school closures due to COVID-19 were not going to be a short-term situation. This has required a shift in thinking about how we do things, both for your child’s school and district, as well as at the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE).
Our focus at KDE is now three-fold – Educate, Feed and Support.
Our first priority is ensuring your children still receive their education through the use of Kentucky’s Non-Traditional Instruction (NTI) Program. All 172 of our state’s school districts are now using this program, which allows education to continue when school buildings are closed. Before this health crisis arose, we only had 83 districts signed up to use NTI, which traditionally had been used for bad weather or flu outbreaks.
Because NTI is new to many of our districts, KDE already is working to provide as much assistance as possible to ensure that the work your children are doing is designed to further their education in meaningful ways. Make no mistake, this is a big change to how education is delivered for our teachers, our students and our parents. While it is more difficult to teach students new – and sometimes complex – topics using NTI, we already are working to share resources and best practices that will help keep our state’s public school children learning regardless of where they are sitting.
Another one of our priorities is Feed, which means assisting districts in making sure children continue to be fed breakfast and lunch when school buildings are closed. In Kentucky, where almost 400,000 public school students were considered economically disadvantaged during the 2018-2019 school year, these meals matter.
Districts are going above and beyond to provide meals to as many students as they can, while keeping students and staff safe. I would like to ask for all of you to be patient with our districts as they navigate these uncharted waters. As this pandemic spreads quickly across the Commonwealth, how and where children receive their meals may have to change to deal with new realities. Please know that we all are working non-stop to figure out what is the best, next step for staff and students. We all need to remain flexible and understand when things must change.
Finally, we’re also prioritizing Support for Kentucky’s teachers and school staff. KDE staff is working closely with the governor’s office, the legislature and the U.S. Department of Education to make sure no students, educators, schools or districts are hurt by these school closures. This involves trying to answer many important questions that don’t have an answer yet.
One of those questions we are working on right now is what is going to happen with our Class of 2020. In a videoconference call I had this week with the Commissioner’s Student Advisory Council, this was an issue weighing heavily on the minds of students. It is bitterly disappointing for our seniors to know that the rites of passage that they have been looking forward to for at least a dozen years – such as senior trips, prom and graduation ceremonies – can’t happen right now.
A new Education Continuation Task Force, a group that will serve as a guiding coalition to help facilitate the delivery of services to Kentucky students during the current period of school closure, is working on finding answers to these hard questions. The group will meet virtually at least once a week to ensure Kentucky’s school districts have knowledge of and access to all available resources, both educational and otherwise, while schools are closed. Two of their top concerns is how do we make sure students who were on track can graduate and what our grading system will look like for NTI work.
We won’t be making any suggestions or recommendations in a vacuum. We’re already asking our students, superintendents, local boards of education and teachers for their ideas about what will work best for them. Just like the governor mentions on his nightly COVID-19 updates, we are in this together. We are #TeamKentucky.
Kevin C. Brown
To stay up to date on resources and news about what is going on in Kentucky’s education system related to COVID-19, make sure you check out KDE’s website regularly. The website contains vital information during this time of uncertainty, including frequently asked questions for parents and schools, new resources for educators and feeding sites in each district.