Teachers Advisory Council Virtual Meeting: July 14, 2020

By Sky Carroll

The Teachers Advisory Council (TAC) – comprised of about 20 teacher leaders from across the Commonwealth – met July 14 to hear from the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) on reopening guidance documents for schools and to discuss concerns for the upcoming school year.

KDE presenters discussed several guidance documents the department has released, including facility considerations, food services, reopening career and technical education (CTE) labs and transportation guidance.

Several council members voiced concerns about the social emotional needs of students amid the COVID-19 pandemic and the return to school in the fall.

“I’m worried about their social-emotional needs,” said Noraa Ransey, a 1st-grade teacher from Calloway County. “We are living through trauma. A pandemic is traumatic for teachers and students.”

Ransey also has a 5-year-old child who should be going into kindergarten. She said she’s worried he won’t get critical developmental social-emotional support and social interaction due to things like having to sit in an individual desk, not being able to use the playground equipment without a mask and having to play six feet apart.

“Before they’re ready to learn, we have to address the needs that living through a trauma puts on an adult and a child,” Ransey said. “I’m afraid that we’re missing that part. We need to make sure that we’re addressing those social-emotional needs so they are ready to learn.”

Kevin C. Brown, interim Kentucky commissioner of education, acknowledged the anxieties that many teachers are feeling about the upcoming school year. He said that although KDE released guidance about social-emotional health early on, attention should again be focused on this aspect so Kentucky can truly care for its students.

Angie Beavin, a teacher in Franklin County, said she “completely agreed” with everything Ransey said. She’s particularly worried about the emotional health of students, especially when it comes to eating lunch.

“It just makes me sad to think about students eating lunch 6 feet apart. It’s almost like they’re eating alone,” Beavin said.

Beavin proposed the idea of allowing students to eat lunch outside. As long as safety is the priority and social distancing is considered, outside is typically better for all activities, according to Brown.

Miles Johnson, a teacher in Jessamine County, recognized the importance of early prevention in stopping the spread of COVID-19.

“Prevention starts on the first day,” Johnson said.

Johnson proposed the idea of creating a short, online “safety orientation” that students and staff can watch prior to going to school.

“I think Kentucky will be way ahead if there’s a short, online orientation,” Johnson said. “I think it’ll really reach home and establish expectations before the first day.”

When it comes to creating a safe, healthy learning environment, Paul Prater of KDE’s Office of Educator Licensure and Effectiveness agreed that educators must not lose sight of the social-emotional aspect of education and discussed a community approach to reopening schools.

“If there are more people involved, I think there will be less anxiety,” Prater said. “If kids and parents are involved, a community approach could make everyone feel a lot more comfortable.”

Dr. Connie White, deputy commissioner for Clinical Affairs for Kentucky Department for Public Health, emphasized that nothing is going to look as it has in the past when it comes to teaching. She also noted the increasing COVID-19 case numbers in Kentucky. She discussed how there are many moving pieces that all depend on one another when it comes to keeping the state safe and healthy.

However, White is hopeful about teachers’ ability to adapt and support students, regardless of the situation.

“We look to our schools as the leaders, the thinkers, the creative people that know how to make new cultural norms work,” White said. “We know we can’t all stay in a bubble forever. We need to fulfill the social-emotional needs of students. But also, we need to make sure that people in the community are safe and healthy.”

The TAC will convene again on Oct. 1.