Kentucky senate education committee changes SB 1, mirrored legislation approved in house committee

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Graphic reading: House Standing Committee on Education Special Session, Sept. 8, 2021As the Kentucky General Assembly’s special session rolls on in Frankfort, the Senate Standing Committee on Education voted to amend Senate Bill (SB) 1, removing a section encouraging districts to develop vaccination incentive plans.

The original bill encouraged districts to create incentive plans for staff and student vaccinations. It also would have forbidden “intimidation tactics or negative incentives.”

After discussions during the Sept. 7 meeting, the committee removed that section from the bill as many districts already are encouraging students and staff to receive their COVID-19 vaccinations.

The committee also updated the bill to require retired and re-employed certified staff to begin a second retirement account. Additionally, the critical shortage cap moves up to 10% per district.

Both Sen. Stephen Meredith and Sen. Reggie Thomas suggested the General Assembly adjust how temporary remote instruction days are assigned. As currently written, SB 1 would provide districts with up to 20 days of temporary remote instruction to be used through Dec. 31. However, the state senators recommended these 20 days be distributed at the school level rather than the district level.

Thomas also said he has filed a floor amendment that would provide additional sick leave support for teachers.

“If we want to put our teachers at risk and encourage them to teach, … then those teachers should not have to use their own personal sick days to take care of themselves,” he said. “If we want to eliminate the mask mandate, and thereby expose our teachers to risk, … then have the school district or have us pay for them being quarantined and being treated for COVID. If we’re going to put them at risk, we ought to at least pay for their time off so they can get well.”

The Senate Standing Committee on Education voted to approve the amendments to SB 1. The legislation now will head to the Senate floor for consideration.

House Standing Committee on Education
Following the Senate Standing Committee on Education’s meeting, Rep. Kim Banta introduced House Bill (HB) 1 during the House Standing Committee on Education’s Sept. 8 meeting.

The legislation mirrors SB 1 and aims to overturn the Kentucky Board of Education’s (KBE’s) emergency regulation requiring masks in public schools.

To prepare for the meeting, Rep. Tina Bojanowski spoke with educators who expressed concerns about the undoing of universal masking in schools and the impact it will have on districts being able to employ substitute teachers.

“It’s quite likely that substitute teachers will not pick up jobs in districts where they no longer have mandatory masking,” she said. “I encourage districts as they make those decisions to think about that fact.”

Educators also are concerned with how they can use their sick leave when they are placed in quarantine or test positive for COVID-19, and hope for additional flexibility with non-traditional instruction, Bojanowski added.

Rep. Jeffery Donohue voiced concerns about the legislation calling on the Kentucky Department for Public Health to develop a COVID-19 test-to-stay model while also removing the mask requirement from schools. The test-to-stay model allows students who are exposed to COVID-19 at school the opportunity to receive a test for the virus to determine if they can remain in the classroom or be required to quarantine.

“For test-to-stay to work, you have to mask kids,” Donohue said. “ … I want kids back in school like everybody else does, as well. It’s critical. But kids represent a lot of times what adults do. …

“I just wish we would put down our swords and axes or whatever it may be, or our political affiliations, and let’s take a look at making good, common sense measures here.”

Though HB 1 does remove the KBE’s mask mandate, it does not say districts cannot continue to implement mask policies, Banta said.

“A school board may absolutely choose to mask and stay masked,” she said.

After an extensive discussion on the bill, HB 1 failed to make it out of the House Standing Committee on Education. Mere hours later, the committee reconvened for a special meeting to accept and move the legislation onto the House floor for consideration.

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