Kentucky Board of Education grants additional COVID-19 flexibility to the Commonwealth’s school districts

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Kentucky Board of Education Virtual Meeting, August 6, 2020

At its Aug. 6 meeting, the Kentucky Board of Education (KBE) approved two emergency regulations that will provide districts with additional flexibility as they head into the 2020-2021 school year.

The first, 702 KAR 1:190, gives local school districts the ability to provide additional emergency leave for district employees to use for COVID-19-related leave.

The Kentucky General Assembly passed Senate Bill 177 (2020) during its last session. Part of this legislation gave districts the flexibility to grant additional emergency leave to employees as a result of COVID-19. However, this legislation was only applicable to the 2019-2020 school year.

“We had certainly hoped we would be through the emergency by this point, but unfortunately we are not,” said Todd Allen, interim general counsel of the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE).

The emergency regulation is very similar to SB 177 in that it provides school districts with the option to grant additional emergency leave, said Allen. 

Districts will be allowed, but not required, to grant this additional emergency leave in addition to the three days of standard emergency leave outlined in state statute. The emergency leave is only allowed for the 2020-2021 school year and the leave must be related to the COVID-19 pandemic, as decided by the local school district.

Since this is paid leave, and to avoid long-term financial impacts on districts, this leave cannot accumulate, be transferred into any other types of paid leave or carry over beyond the 2020-2021 school year.

The emergency regulation was unanimously approved by the board, however, some members expressed hesitancy due to school districts having final say over granting the leave.

Allison Slone, ex officio board member and a teacher at McBrayer Elementary School (Rowan County), said she has heard concerns from teachers across the state about being required to use up all their sick days before they can utilize the emergency leave.

“This is something our teachers are very concerned about,” she said.

Slone added, and other board members agreed, that she would like to see KDE provide additional guidance to school districts on how districts can implement the different types of leave available during the next school year.

“We’ve already provided a substantial amount of guidance on leave options, but now that the board has adopted this regulation, we can wrap this in and incorporate it and provide additional guidance on the leave options that are available,” said Allen.

School Calendars
The second regulation approved by the board was an emergency amendment to 702 KAR 7:140, School Calendar. This amendment allows for an additional 30 minutes each day to be counted toward instructional hours for activities conducted by districts related to COVID-19. These 30 minutes can be used at any point throughout the day.

COVID-19-related activities include, but are not limited to, cleaning, sanitizing, hand washing, taking temperatures, and instructing students on the use of masks and social distancing.

“This additional 30 minutes will be a relief to teachers who are very careful stewards about how they use those instructional minutes,” said KBE Chair Lu Young.

Waiver of Certain KBE Regulatory Requirements
The KBE also granted further flexibility to the Commonwealth’s school districts in the form of temporary waivers of board regulatory requirements in response to the COVID-19 emergency.

For the 2020-2021 school year, board members approved waiving the time frame for administration and reporting window requirements set forth in 704 KAR 5:070, Common Kindergarten Entry Screener. The regulation states that the screener shall be administered during a window no earlier than 15 days before the first instructional day and no later than the 30th instructional day of the academic year.

“With all of the safety guidelines and the cleaning of the manipulatives that are part of the screen, we think that it’s going to take a little longer,” said Jennifer Stafford, director of KDE’s Division of Assessment and Accountability Support. “As well as students may not be back 30 days after the start of school.”

This waiver will give districts and schools additional time and more flexibility when administering this screener to students.

“We know that the current situation is ever evolving, and it could change in October, it could change in November,” said Stafford. “We’re really looking at the flexibility for our schools to be able to administer this when they are able to have students safely in the building.”

In response to concerns raised from districts about the implementation of the state-funded preschool program, the KBE approved the following temporary waivers of preschool regulations:

  • Waiver of 704 KAR 3:410 Section 6(1)(c) for the 2020-2021 school year: 704 KAR 3:410, Locally Designed Preschool Program, requires school districts to operate a standard preschool program schedule, either four or five days a week single session (half day), or four days a week double session (full day). However, a district may adopt a locally designed program with the commissioner of education’s approval. The board agreed that given the current state of emergency and likelihood that most districts will utilize a program schedule outside the standard preschool program schedule, it is not practical for every school district to submit a locally designed preschool program and request approval. With this statewide waiver, preschool plans must align with district plans to reopen schools, as well as address contingencies and remain flexible as new information becomes available. 
  • Waiver of 704 KAR 3:410 Section 6(5)(a) for the 2020-2021 school year: 704 KAR 3:410, Parent Volunteers in Preschool Classrooms, requires school districts to provide parents with specific opportunities to participate in the classroom as volunteers or observers. While parent engagement plays a critical role in child development, opportunities to volunteer in the classroom may not be possible in districts opting to deliver services online during the pandemic. 
  • Waiver of 704 KAR 3:410, Sections 6(5)(e) and 7(3)(c) for the 2020-2021 school year: 704 KAR 3:410, Home Visits, requires at least two home visits per child each year. These visits may not be practical given the current state of emergency.
  • Waiver of 704 KAR 3:410, Section 6 (7)(d) for the 2020-2021 school year: 704 KAR 3:410, Child Development and Health Screening, requires school districts to complete child development and health screening within 30 school days of enrollment. However, the process may take longer to complete if health clinics are closed intermittently during the pandemic. 
  • Waiver of 704 KAR 3:015, Section 5: 704 KAR 3:015, Kentucky Preschool All STARS, provides preschool program sites with a STARS level certification renewable every three years. Some preschool program sites currently are in the three-year renewal cycle. All STARS renewal requires certain steps by preschool program sites and KDE that may involve in-person appearances. Furthermore, preschool programs may be closed to in-person services. The KBE also granted permission for KDE to establish alternative renewal timelines for preschool program sites subject to renewal through July 31, 2021. 

Interim Commissioner Kevin C. Brown’s Report to the KBE
The Aug. 6 meeting was the final KBE meeting for Interim Commissioner Kevin C. Brown in his current role.

During his report to the board, Brown discussed the implicit bias trainings that KDE employees have recently started. This training was an introduction and employees will continue these trainings going forward, he said.

Brown added that he hopes the trainings offered to the department, in partnership with the Kentucky State University’s Center for Research on the Eradication of Educational Disparities, will lead to the development of similar trainings and resources for Kentucky’s school districts.

As Brown wrapped up his report, he raised concerns over limited education funding going forward.

“We’re (KDE) running on fumes,” he said. “In the past, we’ve always had some budget issues and we’ve been able to kind of do some things and work magic. That’s come to an end.”

Brown indicated that proceeds from the sale of surplus capital assets at the Kentucky School for the Deaf would be needed to pay for ongoing expenses at the school due to inadequate appropriations.

“We can’t operate like that long-term,” he said.

Brown said education funding is currently in a position where a “broader conversation” needs to occur, beyond the normal request from the KBE every two years.

Due to the economic hit on Kentucky’s economy due to COVID-19, Brown said he’s aware these issues will not be fixed in the next budget cycle.

“I’m concerned about the ability for KDE to continue to provide guidance that is needed, particularly in a changing landscape,” he said.

Impact of Senate Bill 158 (2020) 
In the 2020 legislative session, Kentucky’s General Assembly passed Senate Bill 158, which made changes to the statewide accountability system, graduation requirements and school improvement provisions.

Associate Commissioner Rhonda Sims of KDE’s Office of Assessment and Accountability said the bulk of the changes found in SB 158 are to school accountability.

SB 158 will require districts to be evaluated on “status” and “change” for state indicators, which include student assessment results, progress toward achieving English proficiency by English learners, quality of school climate and safety, high school graduation rates and postsecondary readiness.

For each indicator, there will be five status levels ranging from very high to very low and five change levels, ranging from increased significantly to decreased significantly.

After statewide assessments were suspended in the spring of 2020, Young asked what districts should expect with accountability for the 2020-2021 school year.

“I think we are in a very uncertain place,” said Sims. “At this point, we are using the terms flexible and tentative. Obviously, we want to do what’s best for the state.”

With Georgia requesting a waiver on its 2021 state standardized test, Sims said her office will be following conversations at the federal level “very closely.”

“We’ll be poised to act when we know what the direction might be permitted federally,” she said.

Micki Ray, policy adviser for KDE’s Office of Teaching and Learning, explained to the board the impact of SB 158 on graduation requirements.

“The state minimum requirements do stay the same for students who entered high school on or before the 2018-2019 school year,” Ray said. “For juniors and seniors, they’re operating under the same graduation requirements. The state minimum requirements must be amended, however, for students who entered high school in the 2019-2020 school year and thereafter.”

Ray said all students still will complete 22 credits over four years to graduate, but statewide requirements can no longer include a postsecondary readiness indicator used in the state accountability system or a minimum score on a statewide assessment.

According to Ray, those indicators can include meeting or exceeding a college readiness benchmark score or achieving college credit, such as earning dual credit, passing an Advanced Placement exam, obtaining apprenticeship time or working toward an industry recognized certification or credential.

Local boards of education will have to eliminate any graduation requirements that include students needing to achieve a minimum score on a statewide assessment.

Ray said that schools will best be able to support students who entered high school in 2019-2020 by further aligning coursework with their Individual Learning Plans (ILP) and their plans after graduation.

In other business, the board:

  • Nominated and elected Lu Young and Sharon Porter Robinson to continue to serve as chair and vice-chair of the KBE. 
  • Approved the recipient of the Kelly Award for Business and Education Partnership. 
  • Presented the Grissom Award for Innovation in Special Education to new Meade County Superintendent Mark Martin. Kentucky Teacher recently featured Martin in its series of profiles on new superintendents for the 2020-2021 school year. 
  • Heard from Prichard Committee Student Voice Team members who shared highlights of a recent report on how COVID-19 impacted students last school year.
  • Heard an update on Jefferson County Public Schools from Superintendent Marty Pollio.
  • Heard an update from KDE staff about the department’s efforts to provide guidance to schools and districts relating to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Received an update on the results of the inaugural Impact Kentucky survey on teacher working conditions.
  • Approved consent agenda items:
    • New district facility plans for the Corbin Independent School District;
    • A district facility plan amendment for the Fayette County School District;
    • Approved KY Tech policies and procedures; 
    • Approved Kentucky School for the Blind and Kentucky School for the Deaf policies; 
    • Approved the assessment alignment adjustment process and the assessment blueprints in reading and writing, mathematics and social studies;
  • Approved the second reading of the following amendments:
    • Amendment to 702 KAR 4:090, Property Disposal. This amendment clarifies the process a school district must follow to dispose of real property through sale, lease or easement. The amendment provides districts with a clear pathway and an understanding of the process and requirements to dispose of property without reliance on program area staff for explanation; 
    • Amendment to 704 KAR 3:303, Required Academic Standards. As the result of the revision of technology standards being set forth in a new administrative regulation, 704 KAR 8:090, Required Kentucky Academic Standards for Technology, this regulation strikes out all former reference to the previous technology standards; and
    • Amendment to 702 KAR 7:065, Designation of Agent to Manage Middle and High School Interscholastic Athletics, to incorporate revisions recommended by the Kentucky High School Athletic Association Board of Control, including amendments to the KHSAA Bylaws.
  • Approved the second reading of new regulation 704 KAR 8:090, Kentucky Academic Standards for Technology. There are no plans for a single technology assessment or technology test that would be tied to these standards.
  • Reviewed first readings on the following amendments:
    • Amendment to 707 KAR 1:340, Procedural Safeguards. With this amendment, sections 3 and 4 of the regulation will clarify the difference between an Admission and Release Committee’s (ARC) meeting notice to parents and prior written notice. A meeting notice is a notice to parents that an ARC meeting will be scheduled. Prior written notice is a notice of proposed or refused action. This amendment also would delete Section 18 from the regulation so KDE can update it and make it more fluid; 
    • Amendment to 704 KAR 3:035, Annual Professional Development Plan. This amendment updates the language to cite 704 KAR Chapter 8, comply with 703 KAR 5:225 and align to KRS 158.6451
    • Amendment to 704 KAR 3:325, Effective Instructional Leadership Act. This amendment updates language to align instructional leadership training program and provider content to the Professional Standards for Educational Leaders;
    • Amendment to 701 KAR 5:150, Nontraditional Instruction (NTI) Program. This amendment would change the way districts submit NTI applications. Beginning with the 2021-2022 school year, districts would incorporate their NTI plan within their Comprehensive District Improvement Plan;
    • New regulation for Kentucky Academic Standards for Library Media Elective: This regulation would create KAS for Library Media. The standards would be optional and be sectioned into grade bands K-2, 3-5, 6-8 and 9-12; and
    • An amendment to 704 KAR 3:305, Minimum Requirements for High School Graduation: In addition to updating language and due to concerns of a lack of access and opportunity, this amendment would remove graduation qualifiers and graduation prerequisites from Section 4 of the regulation.
  • Approved the Kentucky Education Technology System Operational Plan for School Year 2020-2021.

The KBE is next scheduled to meet Oct. 6 and 7 in Frankfort.

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