Dear Kentucky Public School Families:
As the first week of school closures due to the nationwide outbreak of COVID-19 draws to a close, I want to thank you all for the changes in schedules and sacrifices you have had to make to help keep our students and communities safe.
I know there continues to be anxiety among our public school families – students, educators and staff members alike – and I want to reiterate what Gov. Andy Beshear and Kentucky Department of Public Health officials already have expressed: this is not a time to panic, as Kentuckians’ risk of getting the virus is relatively low. I also want to reassure you that everyone at your local school district, at the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) and within other agencies of state government are ready and willing to assist you and your district as this situation evolves.
Although most of our school districts initially had intended for their students to go back to their classrooms in early April, it now appears that will not be possible. During a call with superintendents this afternoon, Governor Beshear asked schools to remain closed until April 20. I know this is difficult for all of our families, especially since daycares and other gathering spots also are closed for the time being.
I want you to know that decisions like these are not taken lightly. Your child’s teachers and the staff here at KDE want nothing more than to help your child learn and grow. 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.
Even though classes aren’t meeting, it doesn’t mean your students aren’t still learning. You may have noticed your child working on packets or doing lessons online. That is because all 172 of our districts are now part of the Non-Traditional Instruction (NTI) Program. This program, typically used during the winter months for bad weather, allows instruction to continue even while schools are closed. At the Kentucky Board of Education’s March 18 meeting, the board voted to allow all districts to join the program for the remainder of the current school year.
The NTI program is a great option for your students. This means that regardless of how long this medical emergency lasts, your child’s education will continue. Our districts are doing some wonderful things to keep their students engaged and learning. You can follow their progress on Twitter using the hashtag #MyNTIKy.
And just today, the U.S. Department of Education announced that states impacted by COVID-19 may file a waiver to bypass standardized testing for the 2019-2020 school year. I am filing the request for the waiver this evening. And because our students will not be taking the K-PREP tests next month, the U.S. Department of Education also is granting a one-year waiver from the federal requirement that we use the standardized tests as part of our state accountability system.
I hope this waiver will help ease some of the anxiety being felt among our families and our teachers. I want our teachers to concentrate on providing a great education to their students through the NTI program rather than worry about standardized testing. Let’s end this year strong despite the extra stress COVID-19 has placed on all of us.
As a nation, we are in uncharted waters with COVID-19. Please know that regardless of what happens, KDE and our other state government partner agencies stand ready to help your districts, your schools and especially, your students. We can get through this and come out the other side all the stronger. We are #TeamKentucky!
Kevin C. Brown