Graphic reading: Superintendents Webcast, January 11, 2022

During the Kentucky Department of Education’s (KDE) January Superintendents Webcast, department staff sought to answer questions surrounding how the omicron variant of COVID-19 will affect non-traditional instruction (NTI) days.

Due to the rapid rise of COVID cases due to the omicron variant, Kentucky’s superintendents have asked about where their teachers need to work from during NTI days. In short, it depends on whether the NTI day is because of COVID-19, said Commissioner of Education Jason E. Glass.

Section 7 of Senate Bill (SB) 1 (2021) states that if a district uses a student attendance day under an approved NTI plan due to COVID-19, all certified staff and any classified staff designated by the district are required to perform their duties on-site. Employees who are quarantined because of the virus are exempt from this requirement.

While some components of the legislation expired on Dec. 31, this requirement was not one of them, Glass added.

“It is our interpretation that if you have an NTI day due to COVID, then your staff must report in-person in the building,” he said. “If you need to shut down because there’s a weather event, that’s different. This is only if you have to shut down and use an NTI day for COVID.”

As for the General Assembly’s ongoing session, Glass said KDE staff are following over 50 education-related bills, including SB 25, which has been quickly advancing through the legislative process. The bill aims to provide additional flexibilities to districts surrounding temporary remote instruction by providing up to 10 days of remote instruction per school for districts to use at the school, classroom, grade or group level for the 2021-2022 school year.

“We are supportive of it and it appears to be fast-tracking through the legislature,” he said. “I appreciate the efforts the legislature is taking now to provide more flexibility because I know some districts are shut down now or are considering having to shut down because you just don’t have enough staff to operate the building safely.”

Kentucky Department for Public Health Updates
Kentucky Department for Public Health (DPH) Deputy Commissioner Dr. Connie White joined the call to provide details on where the state stands in its ongoing fight with COVID-19. 

Last week, more than 52,000 Kentuckians tested positive for the virus – the highest total for one week since the start of the pandemic, White said.

“I think you can see why this is alarming to us and to the healthcare community,” she said.

This week, DPH revised its COVID-19 prevention guidance for K-12 schools and childcare settings.

Key changes to the guidance documents include:

  • A shortened 5-day isolation for individuals testing positive for COVID-19 but who do not have symptoms and who wear a well-fitting mask for 10 full days;
  • A shortened 5-day quarantine for individuals not up-to-date with their COVID-19 vaccination who are exposed to COVID-19 and who wear a well-fitting mask for 10 full days; and
  • Expanded test-to-stay for K-12 schools to include teachers and staff and individuals exposed to COVID-19 outside of school.

Contact tracing following at-school exposure and quarantine for individuals exposed to COVID-19 at school may be discontinued for school settings requiring universal masking for all individuals.

Project SERV Funds
Officials from the U.S. Department of Education (USED) invited districts impacted by recent tornadoes to apply for Project SERV funds, which help restore the learning environment after being disrupted due to a violent or traumatic crisis, such as a natural disaster.

These funds can be used to provide funding for various expenses including targeted mental health supports, overtime for district employees, as well as substitute teachers and other staff as necessary.

“Project SERV is intended to be used for short-term unexpected needs that weren’t budgeted for and can’t be covered by other resources,” said Maria Rowan of USED’s Disaster Recovery Unit.

For a district to qualify for funding, it must be able to:

  • Demonstrate that the natural disaster had a traumatic effect on the learning environment, including how the event has disrupted teaching and learning;
  • Explain how proposed activities/services will help restore the learning environment; and
  • Demonstrate that the needed activities/services cannot be adequately provided with existing resources in a comprehensive and timely manner.

More information on the funds and applications process is available on USED’s Project SERV website.

“We want our application to be as easy and quick as a federal process can be,” Rowan said. “One of the best features of Project SERV is it tends to be faster than other funding.”

In other news, superintendents:

  • Received a legislative update from Glass. Of the bills being tracked by KDE staff, there are bills related to the COVID-19 emergency and the December tornado disaster;
  • Discussed Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) integrated data reporting with KDE Associate Commissioner Robin Kinney. In response to public comment, the data collection for the ESSER annual performance reporting period has been moved back to May 2022. A final draft of the data collection form can be found on KDE’s COVID-19 Resources for Finance Officers webpage. The department will provide additional information to districts regarding how to submit data to be included in the report. Any additional information received will be shared at the next finance officer webcast, which is on Jan. 20;
  • Discussed the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA’s) Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) with KDE General Counsel Todd Allen. OSHA’s ETS would require all employers with 100 or more employees to ensure their staff is vaccinated. If employees are not vaccinated, employers must require employees to undergo weekly COVID-19 testing. In addition to the testing requirement, unvaccinated employees would be required to wear a face-covering when indoors or in a vehicle with another person for work purposes. The ETS does not require employers to pay for any costs associated with testing. Districts may consider testing programs offered through DPH. Employees not reporting to a workplace where coworkers or customers are present, are working from home or work exclusively outdoors are exempt from the ETS. The U.S. Supreme Court held arguments regarding this matter on Jan. 7. An order is expected before Feb. 9, Allen said. If the U.S. Supreme Court does not order the ETS void, all full-time, part-time, temporary and seasonal employees are considered in the total number of employees;
  • Recognized the state’s education cooperative’s new diversity, equity and inclusion coordinators;
  • Heard updates from Toni Konz Tatman, KDE’s chief communications officer, which included details on the Robinson Award for Diversity in Public Education. Nominations for the award will be accepted through Jan. 13. Konz Tatman also discussed the 2023 Kentucky Teacher of the Year nomination process, which opened on Monday; and
  • Recognized individuals who went above and beyond to help others in Taylor County after the December tornadoes. KDE will be highlighting many people throughout Kentucky’s school districts who have done great things to help their neighbors.