Jess Clark

Jess Clark is WWNO's Education Desk reporter. Jess comes to the station after two years as Fletcher Fellow for Education Policy Reporting for North Carolina Public Radio - WUNC (Chapel Hill). Her reporting has aired on national programs, including NPR's All Things ConsideredHere & Now from WBURand NPR's Weekend Edition

Originally from Louisville, Kentucky, Jess graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2015 with a master's in Journalism and Mass Communication.

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To slow the spread of the coronavirus, Gov. Andy Beshear and other public officials are asking Kentuckians to maintain strict social distancing and stay “Healthy At Home.”

But in a state that leads the nation in rates of child abuse and neglect, home is not always a safe place, especially for children. According to the latest report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), Kentucky has the highest rate of child maltreatment in the nation: 23.5 child victims for every 1,000 children. That’s more than double the national rate of 9.2 per 1,000.

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The weeks of standardized tests Kentucky schools spend all year preparing are being canceled. The Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) says the federal government will grant the state’s request to cancel testing for the 2019-2020 school year because of closures and other challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic.

“The Kentucky Department of Education has been informed by the U.S. Department of Education that we meet the requirements for the waiver of assessment & accountability for the 2019-20 school year and that formal approval is forthcoming. As a result, we are canceling the administration of 2020 K-PREP,” KDE spokeswoman Toni Konz Tatman wrote in an emailed statement.

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 Gov. Andy Beshear recommended closing all schools across the state – public and private – to prevent the spread of COVID-19. He’s asking schools to close Monday, and stay closed for at least two weeks.

“This is a big but necessary step,” Beshear said at a press conference Thursday evening.

Beshear joins the governors of Ohio and Maryland in calling for statewide school closures. He said while early research on COVID-19 suggests the virus is not particularly dangerous to children, young people can still catch and transmit the virus to more vulnerable people, like the elderly and those with underlying health conditions.

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When Gov. Andy Beshear said Wednesday that districts need to be ready to close with 72 hours notice, some districts were ready; others were not, based on a sample made by WFPL News.

One of the biggest challenges confronting districts is how to continue providing instruction when their students are not in classrooms.

Many districts already have state-approved plans for continuing instruction during closures, called Non-Traditional Instruction (NTI) plans. These districts have already created materials to send home with students during a closure. Many plans include digital instruction. Students who don’t have computer access are supposed to get paper packets at the beginning of the school year, and are encouraged to reach their teachers by phone with questions during the closure.

Jess Clark | WFPL

bill to end corporal punishment in Kentucky schools is facing hurdles clearing a state senate committee, according to advocates for the measure.

House lawmakers passed the ban on corporal punishment 65-17 in February. But supporters of the ban say it’s having trouble getting heard in the senate education committee.

Kentucky Youth Advocates director Terry Brooks said some lawmakers in the committee believe the matter should be up to local school boards.

“Frankly I am a little surprised and disappointed,” Brooks said in an interview.

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State lawmakers have proposed changing Kentucky’s new 5-star school rating system.

bill filed by Sen. David Givens (R-Greensburg) proposes changes to graduation requirements, grading metrics and how schools are identified for turnarounds. Givens said the bill is an “update” to the 2017 legislation that created the accountability system.

“This continues to refine that in very positive ways,” he said. “And that’s the motivation for the bill.”

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bill filed by Kentucky Senate president Robert Stivers (R-Manchester) would take away the power of the governor to reorganize the state board of education. The bill would likely prevent future wholesale ousters of board members, like the one carried out by Gov. Andy Beshear.

When Beshear took office, one of his first acts as governor was to dissolve the Kentucky Board of Education. The board’s members were all appointed by Beshear’s political rival, former Republican Gov. Matt Bevin. Beshear replaced the Bevin-appointees with his own, and now the dueling boards are duking it out in the courts.

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The state’s first charter school applicant, River Cities Academy, lost its appeal to the Kentucky Board of Education. The board decided Tuesday not to overturn a decision by Newport Independent Schools to deny the group a charter.

A group of parents in Northern Kentucky wanted to open the state’s first charter school, called River Cities Academy (RCA), pulling students from six districts along the river. According to the application, the school was to serve a “diverse learner population” in grades K-8, and focus on closing the achievement gap through experiential learning.

J. Tyler Franklin

Governor Andy Beshear has signed a bill into law requiring all Kentucky school resource officers, or SROs, to carry a gun.

“The threats to our children in our schools is very real,” Beshear said, citing incidents where guns were found on school campuses, a thwarted school shooting plot in Shelby County, and the 2018 shooting in Marshall County.

“I simply cannot ask a school resource officer to stop an armed gunman entering a school without them having the ability to not only achieve this mission, but also to protect themselves,” he said.

Jess Clark | WFPL

In 19 Kentucky school districts, when a student misbehaves, teachers or principals can still use a paddle to spank students on the behind. Last year, educators used paddling to discipline students at least 284 times — mostly in Eastern and South-Central Kentucky. The state keeps track of how often schools use it, and on who.

Kentucky is one of 19 states where corporal punishment is legal in public schools. That means it’s legal for educators in public schools to inflict pain as a form of discipline, usually through spanking. But state lawmakers are considering legislation that would ban the practice.

 


Jess Clark

A federal district judge heard arguments Tuesday in a case brought by several Kentucky Board of Education members ousted by Gov. Andy Beshear.

The members, all appointed by former Gov. Matt Bevin, are asking the court to stop the Beshear-appointed board from meeting.

The seven former board members say Beshear’s decision to remove them shortly after his election was illegal. They asked a state court for a preliminary injunction to prevent the new board from meeting in December, but the state court denied that request. Now, the Bevin appointees are suing in federal court.

 


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Kentucky lawmakers are once again considering a controversial measure that would use a tax credit program to send low- and middle-income students to private schools. Lawmakers in both the House and the Senate have filed identical bills to create the Scholarship Tax Credit Program.

Scholarship tax credit programs are already in 18 states, including in neighboring Indiana, according to the national pro-school choice nonprofit EdChoice. Kentucky’s proposed Scholarship Tax Credit Program would create scholarship funds to send low and middle-income students to private school. Students would have to meet one or more of the following requirements to be eligible for a scholarship:

 


On a clear morning in late August, 9-year-old Alongkorn Lafargue hops in the back seat of his father's car. He's wearing his school uniform: neatly ironed khakis and a bright blue polo shirt embroidered with the logo of his new charter school, IDEA Oscar Dunn. Alongkorn has been going there only a few weeks, and his dad, Alex Lafargue, says he has struggled to get his son to talk about what it's like.

"He was anxious," Lafargue says. "And [its] his third week there now. He's starting to open up."