By Mike Marsee
Gov. Andy Beshear recommended today that all Kentucky schools consider suspending in-person classes for a period of at least two weeks beginning Monday, March 16, to help control the spread of the 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in communities across the state.
During a news conference at the Kentucky State Capitol, Beshear said he was acting on the advice of Kentucky Department for Public Health Commissioner Dr. Steven Stack in asking the superintendents of Kentucky’s 172 public school districts to cease in-person classes for at least two weeks.
Several school districts announced plans prior to the governor’s request to close their schools beginning Friday or Monday. Kentucky School for the Blind and Kentucky School for the Deaf, both of which are operated by the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE), announced they would be closing Monday.
Interim Education Commissioner Kevin C. Brown said he strongly supports the governor’s recommendation, which affects approximately 650,000 public school students who attend classes in 1,466 schools.
“I want to thank the governor, Dr. Stack and others in the administration who have been working tirelessly over the past few days to ensure that we take a proactive approach to this issue based on science and research,” Brown said.
Beshear noted that schools and districts still will have the flexibility to continue to serve students and their families through areas such as non-traditional instruction, meals and services provided by Family Resource and Youth Service Centers.
Brown noted that school districts may choose to utilize KDE’s Non-Traditional Instruction (NTI) Program for these days if they have been approved to do so by KDE. Districts using NTI on a day when schools are closed will not have to make that day up at the end of the year.
“NTI is an option and it is not required, but it is strongly recommended,” Brown said.
A number of districts that were not participating in the NTI Program during the 2019-2020 school year have applied for a waiver opportunity that was made available earlier this week. Districts may still apply for the program waiver upon getting approval from their local board of education. Eighty-three of Kentucky’s 172 school districts were approved to participate in the NTI program during the 2019-2020 school year.
“I am asking the Kentucky Board of Education to consider a blanket statewide waiver for all districts to utilize NTI instruction even if those districts were not approved prior to this school year,” Brown said. “We’ve heard from over 20 school districts in the last three days and they’ve already submitted to us very detailed plans as to how they’re going to utilize this instruction.”
In addition, KDE and the governor’s office is working with the Kentucky General Assembly on legislation that would increase the number of NTI days available during the current school year, bringing the maximum allowable number of NTI days up to 20.
Brown also said he has asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to grant a waiver to Kentucky to permit school districts to provide non-congregate feeding during school closures. If granted by USDA, this will enable districts to be reimbursed for meals that they choose to serve to students on school closure days that are consumed off site.
He said the KDE Leadership Team will be working throughout the day Friday to provide direct support to superintendents and other education partners with questions about school operations affected by COVID-19. In addition, KDE is developing a public question-and-answer document that will address many of their questions.
“I know in-person classes is not a term that some our superintendents have heard, so we anticipate some questions tomorrow and we are going to be happy to field those questions,” Brown said.
Brown expressed his gratitude to the Kentucky High School Athletic Association and thanked Commissioner Julian Tackett for his leadership following Tackett’s announcement earlier today that the Girls Sweet 16 and Boys Sweet 16 high school basketball tournaments would be suspended until further notice.
“I want to thank Commissioner Tackett for making the hard decision to call off the rest of the tournaments,” Brown said.
He also reminded superintendents and the entire K-12 education community of the governor’s advice to all Kentucky citizens, urging them to follow “the three C’s:” stay calm, promote cleanliness by practicing good hygiene and cooperate with local health department partners and other local leaders.