Kentucky superintendents hear changes in NTI, guidance on spring events

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Superintendents Webcast: March 9, 2021

Kentucky superintendents heard details of new guidance on school operations for the rest of this academic year and the coming fall during the Kentucky Department of Education’s (KDE’s) Superintendents’ Webcast on March 9.

House Bill 208 – signed March 4 by Gov. Andy Beshear – codified many pandemic-related emergency regulations for Kentucky schools, including school operations.  No policy or operational changes will take place before March 29, said Chuck Truesdell, KDE director of government relations.

According to “COVID-19 Considerations for Schools and Districts: HB 208: Changes to Non-Traditional Instruction,” from March 29 to the end of the current school year, all students must have access to in-person classes at least two days a week, and schools must hold in-person classes at least four days a week. Those are minimums, Truesdell said. Only five more non-traditional education (NTI) days may be used after March 29.

Students, however, will not be required to return to in-person classes this school year. They may submit written requests to continue remote learning.

But for fall 2021, class and attendance standards will revert to pre-COVID-19 rules, including no more than 10 days of NTI. School districts must submit applications for participation in the NTI program by May 1.

“We anticipate that all districts would be back in the classroom full-time in the fall,” Truesdell said.

If one school in a multi-school district needs to move to NTI for some time during the upcoming school year, that would not count against the district’s 10 allotted days of NTI, said David Cook, director of the KDE Division of Innovation.

“We’ve never approached NTI as a school-level program. It’s always been a district-level program,” he said. House Bill 208 grants districts an additional five days of NTI for the remainder of the 2020 – 2021 school year.

Graduations and Spring Activities

On March 8, KDE released the “COVID-19 Guidance for Schools – Considerations for Spring Activities” guidance, which provides options and considerations for planning  end-of-year events such as graduation ceremonies.

Those activities should follow the updated “Guidance and Safety Expectations and Best Practices for Kentucky Schools (K-12), said Micki Ray, director of the KDE Division of Program Standards.

The document outlines several possible scenarios for a district to consider as they work with their local health department and students and families to determine the best option in their particular situation. Districts should create flexible action plans, Ray said.

Representatives of two school districts described their planned and previous activities altered by COVID-19.

“We are going to forego prom this year and have what we are referring to as ‘Seniors Under the Stars,’” said Hardin County Schools Superintendent Teresa Morgan. The events will be limited to senior class members at each of the district’s three high schools, she said.

Each high school also will hold a graduation ceremony during a school day, attended only by seniors and administrators, Morgan said. That ceremony will be recorded, and then seniors can schedule appointments to walk across the stage in the presence of up to 10 family members. Video of those separate events will be combined to be used in a “viewing party” on the actual graduation date, she said.

In spring 2020, Logan County High School held a drive-through graduation ceremony and other socially distant events.

Those included a “Be the Light” nighttime drive through of campus for senior athletes and video spotlights on individual athletes, Principal Caycee Spears said.

The graduation ceremony, organized by the high school’s JROTC chapter with items donated by local businesses, was held outdoors in front of the school, he said.

Twenty-five students came through the drive-past ceremony every 30 minutes for a total of four hours, Spears said.

ESSER II Funds

Required assurances and spending plans for the second round of federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funding must be submitted by May 15, said Robin Kinney, KDE associate commissioner in the Office of Finance and Operations. Information on completing and submitting those documents is available on the KDE Grant Management Application and Planning (GMAP) home page.

The additional $928 million coming to Kentucky as ESSER II funding can be used for expenses going back to March 13, 2020, when Kentucky’s pandemic emergency was declared. It can pay for expenses obligated up to Sept. 30, 2023.

The purpose of the new funding is to help prevent COVID-19 outbreaks and prepare for responding to them, but with added emphasis on counteracting learning loss, making health-related improvements to schools and improving school air quality.

It can be used for the same purposes as previous ESSER funds, but spending must be tracked separately, said Robin Kinney, KDE associate commissioner in the Office of Finance and Operations. The new money must be budgeted and spent in accordance with the “COVID-19 Guidance for Schools: Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund II” guidance.

The state has set aside $92.8 million from ESSER II for use by the Kentucky School for the Deaf, Kentucky School for the Blind, area technology centers and statewide projects, but local school districts also have a chance to access some of that money. It will be allocated on a per-pupil basis among the school districts that meet criteria for its use.

Districts must spend 85% of their allocated district ESSER II funds on direct services to support students, and by April 1, begin offering 12 or more hours per week of in-person instruction and continue through the 2020 – 2021 school year. The goal is for districts to get a minimum of $75 per student

Districts will be required to submit a new spending plan for using those set-aside dollars. The spending plan template will be available March 22, Kinney said.

P-EBT Funding and Unemployment Fraud

The U.S. Department of Agriculture approved Kentucky’s application for a third round of P-EBT funding for October 2020-May 2021, said Lauren Moore, KDE division director for School and Community Nutrition. Funding increased slightly to $6.82 per student per day.

Students who have been primarily on virtual learning since October 2020 are eligible for 20 days of benefits per month, while students primarily on hybrid learning are eligible for 12 days of benefits per month, Moore said.

Any questions about P-EBT use can be answered by the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services at (855) 306-8959 or may already be addressed on the CHFS Kentucky Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer Frequently Asked Questions page.

Kinney said many reports of unemployment insurance fraud have emerged nationwide, and some KDE and local district staff have received letters regarding unemployment actions they didn’t initiate.

Anyone who suspects a case of unemployment fraud can find details and report it on the Office of Unemployment Insurance fraud website.

COVID-19 Vaccination

The number of new COVID- 19 cases continues to decline in Kentucky, and about a quarter of the adult population has been vaccinated, said Dr. Connie White, deputy commissioner of the Kentucky Department for Public Health (DPH).

Two weeks after people have been fully vaccinated, they no longer need to quarantine or be tested if they’re exposed to someone with COVID-19, as long as the vaccinated person has no symptoms, she said.

“The risk of you getting COVID-19 is extremely low,” White said. But the most recent recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are that even vaccinated people should continue to wear face masks unless they are around only people who also have been fully vaccinated, she said.

Guidance for Kentucky schools soon will be updated to include the latest CDC recommendations, said Kelly Foster, associate commissioner in the KDE Office of Continuous Improvement and Support.

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