SAC members review new KDE COVID-19 reopening guidance, discuss virtual schools

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Superintendents Advisory Council Virtual Meeting, July 20, 2020

  • KDE Chief Digital Officer Marty Park joined the superintendents to discuss the Kentucky Online Virtual Schools Network.
  • KDE’s Office of Special Education and Early Learning released two guidance documents on July 20 and the SAC had the opportunity to review both.

By Jacob Perkins
jacob.perkins@education.ky.gov

The Kentucky Department of Education’s (KDE) Superintendent Advisory Council (SAC) met virtually on July 20 to take a look at guidance released by the department on special education, compensatory education and daily participation for non-traditional instruction (NTI).

David Cook, KDE’s director of innovation and coordinator of the NTI Program, kicked off the meeting by discussing the “COVID-19 Considerations for Reopening Schools: Daily Participation and Non-Traditional Instruction” guidance document.

This guidance explains the different types of daily student participation, the types and uses of NTI and how districts will record daily participation for the 2020-2021 school year.

During its July 10 meeting, the Kentucky Board of Education (KBE) voted to approve an amendment to 702 KAR 7:125 that gives school districts the ability to provide and receive funding for a variety of instructional delivery models to meet the needs of their students and communities during the 2020-2021 school year in light of continued COVID-19 risks and necessary prevention measures.

These models include traditional in-person instructional days, periods of complete virtual learning through NTI and days of blended in-person instruction and NTI delivery.

The amendment temporarily suspends the collection of student attendance data for funding purposes. In its place, it establishes a process for collecting student participation and requires the reporting and publication of district student participation rates to KDE and the Legislative Research Commission.

For the 2020-2021 school year, districts will record participation in Infinite Campus for all students instead of recording attendance. For safety reasons, districts still will need to record attendance for students who are in the classroom, said Cook. This attendance record will not be reported to KDE, however.

The guidance document defines participation as the measure of the interactions between teachers and students. According to Cook, these interactions will vary based on whether the student is learning in person or participating in remote instruction.

Grading, not participation, still will be the determination of the quality of work completed by the student, said Cook.

Another change for districts heading into the 2020-2021 school year is that now districts can pre-determine when an NTI day will occur. Previously, through the NTI Program, NTI days were mainly used for weather-related closures. Now, districts can begin to plan when these NTI days will occur.

The amendment approved by the KBE also allows the commissioner of education to grant an unlimited amount of NTI days as was permitted for the 2019-2020 school year by Senate Bill 177 (2020).

Cook pointed out that for a district to claim a school day as an NTI day, all students in the district must be learning remotely.

Office of Special Education and Early Learning Guidance
KDE’s Office of Special Education and Early Learning (OSEEL) released two guidance documents on July 20 and the SAC had the opportunity to review both.

The first, “COVID-19 Considerations for Reopening Schools for Exceptional Learners and Preschool Students,” provides guidelines and recommendations for the health and safety of exceptional students – those with Individual Education Programs (IEP), 504 plans and students who are gifted and talented – and preschool students. The document includes guidance on things like social distancing, classroom environments, food distribution and masks.

The document is designed to align with the “Guidance on Safety Expectations and Best Practices for Kentucky Schools (K-12”)  and is organized into four main sections: reopening considerations; special education questions and answers; preschool questions and answers; and resources.

“As we move forward … the thing that we have to be the most careful about is that students with disabilities are able to participate to the full extent in whichever environment,” said OSEEL Associate Commissioner Gretta Hylton.

Hylton added that a student’s instructional location should not equate to change in placement. A student’s placement is based on individual needs and their IEP should not be altered due to the nature of the pandemic, she said.

“A student’s needs don’t change as a result of this,” said Hylton. “The district is still responsible for providing that offer of FAPE (free appropriate public education).”

Another document released by OSEEL on July 20, “COVID-19 Considerations for Reopening Schools: Compensatory Education and Extended School Year Services,” explains the differences between compensatory education and extended school year services.

According to the guidance, compensatory education is not defined in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) or Kentucky Administrative Regulations on Special Education Programs (August 2008). Compensatory education has been shaped by case law as well as nonregulatory guidance from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs.

Compensatory education services are any services designed to place the student in a position he or she otherwise would have been in, but for the lack of educational benefit resulting from a denial of FAPE.

Extended school year services, on the other hand, are defined in 707 KAR 1:002, Section 1 (26) as “specially designed instruction and related services that are provided to a student with a disability beyond the normal school year in accordance with the child’s IEP at no cost to the parents.”

The document guides how to provide both compensatory education and extended school year services during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as through NTI.

Kentucky Online and Virtual Schools Network
KDE Chief Digital Officer Marty Park joined the superintendents to discuss the Kentucky Online Virtual Schools Network.

In 2012, the department moved away from a KDE-operated virtual school and, according to Park, the department does not feel that KDE should return to this format.

However, KDE has been working alongside districts and the state’s educational cooperatives to better understand district needs when it comes to virtual schools.

About 30 school districts either are in the initial stages or have a fully developed virtual school program, said Park. These programs would have expanded enrollment, meaning they take in students from other districts as well.

KDE plans to build a network across the Commonwealth to expand the work of virtual schools. The network is not ready to launch yet, Park said, but it is important to note that KDE will not endorse any specific platform that offers virtual curriculum services because that will be a decision made at the local level.

Districts will be able to partner with other districts or an educational cooperative through this virtual network. Park does recommend that before doing so, the district understands what content is being offered.

At times, these digital platforms could serve as the instructor of the course. Therefore, selected platforms should have an instruction that is aligned to the Kentucky Academic Standards. The course also will have to be reviewed and endorsed by a Kentucky certified teacher.

“As we expand and develop this network, at a rapid pace, we want to make sure that we can provide additional supports,” said Park. 

Superintendent Questions
Interim Education Commissioner Kevin C. Brown provided SAC members with the opportunity to ask questions.

David Rust, superintendent of Campbell County Public Schools, said he has heard concerns from teachers within his district about the rising number of COVID-19 cases in Kentucky. He said that when Kentucky schools closed in March, there were much fewer cases than the state now is seeing. He asked why schools should consider reopening when there appears to be a greater risk.

“The one thing that is a little different from the spring is we have more tools available to us through contact tracing and increased testing,” said Brown.

Brown added that even though districts have developed reopening plans, there is a possibility the governor may recommend schools again close their doors due to the virus.

Kentucky Department for Public Health Deputy Commissioner Dr. Connie White echoed Brown’s statements and said that if schools do have to close due to the virus, they will be able to re-use their reopening plans.

“If something happened next week that things were closed, these plans will be used later on,” she said. “So, don’t feel like you’re spinning your wheels.”

The SAC will meet again on Aug. 3.

 

Previous coverage of the Superintendents’ Advisory Council

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