Commissioner's Parents Advisory Council Virtual Meeting: June 10, 2020

By Donna Melton

The Kentucky Department of Education’s (KDE) Commissioner’s Parents Advisory Council (PAC) heard how schools are preparing for reopening this fall during its June 10 meeting.

KDE has been encouraging schools to prepare for three contingencies for the start of the school year: a traditional opening while following guidance from the Kentucky Department for Public Health, beginning the school year online by utilizing the department’s Non-Traditional Instruction (NTI) Program or an adjusted model that would blend both a traditional and electronic opening.

Interim Education Commissioner Kevin C. Brown said KDE is working to determine how attendance and funding will be counted if Kentucky continues forward with an adjusted opening – in which schools reopen with staff shortages or social distancing measures that impact the number of students that can be in the building – or with the possibility of some schools being unable to reopen.

“We are planning for several scenarios that may occur as schools open,” Brown said. “Some parents will be fearful and may choose to keep their children at home. Some parents may keep a child at home because someone in the family may have a medical condition. Some districts may need to go to a staggered schedule of attendance to increase social distancing. KDE will do all we can to assist in all of these situations.”

KDE released the “Academic Re-entry Stage One: Drafting an Adjusted Curriculum” guidance on June 1. The Office of Teaching and Learning recently hosted a three-part webcast series to accompany the academic reopening document and provide additional guidance for teachers on analyzing content that was taught during the 2019-2020 school year to inform decisions on adjusting their curriculum for the 2020-2021 school year.

“Whether students attend school in the school building or through a virtual platform in the fall, educators can utilize this process to adjust curriculum to address the academic needs of students when school reopens,” said Krista Hall, director of KDE’s Division of Program Standards.

KDE also is conducting a set of needs-sensing surveys to be released over the next week to gain input on the needs of teachers, principals, superintendents and families as schools and districts plan to reopen this fall. The family survey will gather information on challenges around the availability and reliability of information technology, students’ struggles in navigating a remote learning environment and caregivers’ challenges in supporting their child/children’s learning.

Parent committee members discussed the needs of families, ranging from technology to childcare and mask policies. Lauren Mitchell, a council member representing KASC, mentioned the need for paper homework packets in case technology is unavailable.

“Having a paperwork as backup is important when technology won’t cooperate,” Mitchell said.

Another parent mentioned the need of ensuring technology is available for all students given the dependence of schools across Kentucky on non-traditional instruction last school year.

“In our household, we have to run off a cell phone hotspot because DSL (a digital subscriber line) is not available, which can slow down homework progress,” said Mandy Sapp, a parent member from Bourbon County.

Lisa Meiman, a representative from the Prichard Committee, agreed, emphasizing that having centralized internet access locations for those without access is critical.

During a school health update, Angela McDonald, a nurse consultant from KDE’s Division of District Support, described how district health coordinators have been planning for the reopening of schools this fall. Coordinators began attending virtual meeting in March to discuss how to best provide care for staff and students to minimize virus exposure.

“As a mom, I wanted to reassure you on what we are doing to give best care to your children in the school year. Your school nurses are working very hard behind the scenes to get ready as best we can,” McDonald said. “It’s very important for families to reach out to their school nurses in regard to their child’s health care needs to develop the best plan for every student.”  

Cyndi Wrenn, a KASC representative, shared an effort needs to be made to connect parents with teachers both during and after regular school hours.

“If we go back to school with virtual classes and kids go to babysitters during the day, some parents can’t help their students with their school work since they are having to do it after school hours when teachers aren’t available,” she said.

Brown assured council members that KDE would be figuring out ways to help districts provide additional assistance to students who need interventions and remediation during this time.

“We want to make sure districts are empowered with the authority and permission to meet students where they are,” Brown said. “We are working to create waivers that will make this happen.”

PAC membership is comprised of 18 members who serve 4-year terms. Parents and organizations are selected through the KDE Community and Partner Engagement Branch.