Special Superintendents' Webcast, April 28, 2020

  • Interim Education Commissioner Kevin C. Brown said that no matter what option a district chooses to recognize its graduates, it is imperative that district officials consult with their local health departments.
  • KDE officials also discussed upcoming guidance for districts regarding the pickup and drop-off of materials by students at the end of the school year.

By Mike Marsee

Leaders of Kentucky’s school districts are encouraged to work with their communities and particularly with local health officials to determine the best option for holding alternative graduation ceremonies and other end-of-year events during the COVID-19 emergency.

With the end of the school year approaching, Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) officials offered superintendents of the state’s 172 districts an overview of its guidance for holding alternative graduation ceremonies and other events April 28 during a KDE webcast.

Interim Education Commissioner Kevin C. Brown said that no matter what option a district chooses to recognize its graduates during the pandemic, district officials should consult with their local health departments.

“You need to consult with them on any type of end-of-year activity that you’re engaged in,” Brown said.

The guidance document expected to be released April 29 will provide guidance for schools and districts on how recognitions could be conducted while complying with social distancing guidelines issued by Gov. Andy Beshear and the Kentucky Department for Public Health. However, all decisions on graduations and other events will be made by local school districts.

Some districts already have set graduation plans for their schools, while others are considering their options. When Beshear recommended April 20 that schools suspend in-person classes for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year, he recommended two options for graduation ceremonies: a virtual ceremony, which he said is the safest choice, or a drive-in ceremony similar to the services being held by many churches.

Some schools are scheduling or considering an in-person graduation ceremony that would be held at a later date when school campuses could reopen, but that must take into account the safety and social distancing guidelines in place at that time.

Brown said even no matter which option a district chooses – including the virtual option – it should consult with local health officials. He also said it’s important to note that directives from local health departments might vary based on the limitations of facilities and other factors specific to their communities.

“We just need to be prepared that there may be some differing guidance by local health departments,” he said.

KDE Interim Chief Communications Officer Toni Konz Tatman said it is important for districts to understand their plans might still need to change as the pandemic evolves.

“Every day things are changing, and this document is just meant to be guidance,” Tatman said.

KDE officials also discussed a second guidance document expected to be released April 29 for districts regarding the pickup and drop-off of materials at schools by students. Many students will need to return materials to their schools at the end of the school year or to retrieve personal items they left at their schools.

NTI Program deadline
The deadline for applying for KDE’s Non-Traditional Instruction (NTI) Program has been extended to June 15. All 172 Kentucky school districts, the state’s 53 area technology centers and Kentucky School for the Deaf and Kentucky School for the Blind, have been utilizing the NTI Program during the COVID-19 emergency.

The 83 districts that were utilizing the program prior to the COVID-19 emergency may apply as returning districts; those that completed emergency applications will need to apply as new districts.

Robin Kinney, the associate commissioner in KDE’s Office of Finance and Operations, said it is too early to know whether districts will need to utilize the NTI program at the start of the 2020-2021 school year.

Finance and operations
Kinney and her staff discussed several items related to finance, personnel and other matters that have been the subject of numerous questions from districts.

One was what to do with money in senior funds that was to be used for activities such as proms and senior trips that now will not take place. Steve Lyles of KDE’s Division of District Support said districts can use those funds to recognize behavior or academic or athletic achievement, including awards and items such as T-shirts and mugs. However, students cannot be given cash or gift cards from those funds.

Senior class officers could also choose to transfer their money to another student activity fund or allow it to roll into their school’s general fund, Lyles said.

For calculations for Support Education Excellence in Kentucky funding for the 2020-2021 school year, districts must choose by May 15 whether to use attendance data from 2018-2019 or 2019-2020. Chay Ritter of KDE’s Division of District Support explained the pros and cons of both options and noted that there will be a risk that KDE cannot quantify, including the risk of a SEEK shortfall.

No shortfall existed when the annual SEEK forecast was posted April 7, but Ritter said any change in data or a state budget reduction could trigger one.

KDE will hold online meetings with district finance officers and directors of pupil personnel April 30 to provide more detail about procedures for the end of fiscal year 2020 and planning for fiscal year 2021.

NTI not ‘too tough’ for Kentucky
Brown ended the webcast by referencing an April 28 story in The Wall Street Journal that indicated many districts in other states are ending the school year early without meeting minimum requirements for instructional hours because remote learning is “too tough.”

He noted that Kentucky is not one of those states, and he said the effort Kentucky schools and districts are making to continue NTI without complaint will positively impact students in the Commonwealth.

“The kids in Kentucky are better for it because you are rising to the occasion, because it is tough,” Brown said. “Thank you all for what you are doing.”