education

Jess Clark | WFPL

Several Kentucky school districts are doing away with mask mandates, citing a drop in coronavirus infections. But public health officials warn the decision could cause cases to spike again.

Warren County Public Schools, Campbellsville Independent Schools and Breckinridge County Schools are among a number of districts that plan to make masks optional in the next week or two. 

ONA News Agency/Wikimedia Commons

A Franklin County judge ruled Friday that the state’s new controversial tax-credit scholarship program violates the Kentucky Constitution. The ruling is a blow to advocates of K-12 school privatization.

The Republican-led legislature narrowly passed the Education Opportunity Account Program earlier this year. It would allow individuals and corporations to donate to a scholarship fund run by a nonprofit “account granting organization,” or AGO. The donor would receive a state tax credit of up to 97% in return. Low- and middle-income families in the state’s nine most populous counties would be able to apply to the AGO to use those funds for private school tuition.

The nonprofit public education advocacy group Council for Better Education sued to challenge the program in court in June, representing two Kentucky school districts and a group of parents.

J. Tyler Franklin

School counselors in Kentucky say students are struggling with an increase in depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts during the coronavirus pandemic.

During a legislative hearing on Tuesday, counselors told lawmakers that it’s not unusual for young people to struggle with mental illness, but the frequency and intensity of symptoms increased over the last year and a half.

Marsha Duncan, a counselor at Larue County High School, said students and staff struggled with the dangers of the pandemic.

“I’ve never seen so many students fearful to be in the school setting and it makes my heart hurt to see fear on students’ faces,” Duncan said.

Metro Nashville Public Schools

Governor Bill Lee has announced he will extend his executive order that allows kids to not follow mask mandates. The move comes after federal judges have made the governor’s order ineffective in three counties, citing the Americans With Disabilities Act.

Federal judges in Shelby, Knox and Williamson Counties have so far signaled that the governor’s order allowing parents to opt out of mask mandates is unconstitutional. The order was set to expire next week, but the governor announced he will extend it 30 more days.

“I’ve been incredibly disappointed by the rulings from federal judges who’ve chosen to legislate from the bench,” Lee said Thursday. “I’ve been in full support of the attorney general as we defend the law in this state.”

The lawsuits are from families who have children with disabilities. They argue the opt-out provision puts their kids at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19.

Jess Clark | WFPL

The majority of Kentucky students say their teachers were there for them during remote learning, according to survey results the state released Wednesday along with its standardized test scores—the first since the pandemic began. But the survey data also shows older students didn’t always feel good about their learning.

When Kentucky students took their standardized tests last spring, many also took a survey about their experience in nontraditional instruction, or NTI. That’s what the state calls the remote learning setup schools moved to after the coronavirus pandemic forced school buildings to close.

State officials say responses show a majority of students felt supported by their schools during NTI.

“The results from the Opportunity to Learn survey show evidence that despite the unfortunate circumstances created by COVID-19, most students viewed their virtual learning as a positive experience,” a press release from the Kentucky Department of Education reads.

J. Tyler Franklin

The Kentucky Department of Education has released standardized testing scores for the first time since the pandemic started, but officials are arguing the results don’t reflect what’s happening in the classroom.

Statewide scores for Kentucky Summative Assessment (KSA)  — formerly known as the Kentucky Performance Rating for Educational Progress (K-PREP) — fell compared to the 2018-2019 school year, the last one before the pandemic. But so did participation rates.

Kentucky Education Commissioner Jason Glass said COVID-19 prevented thousands of students from being able to adequately prepare for or take the test. But the federal government still required the state to administer it and report the scores.

“We knew these results would not be what we wanted, but we’re also not altogether surprised,” Glass said. “These are not unexpected given the disruptions that we’ve endured over the past two years.”

Tennessee State Board of Education/Twitter

State representatives in Tennessee are meeting this week to have a study session on education. It’s a chance for lawmakers to get together and discuss proposed legislation. But one lawmaker is upset after his proposal to expand teaching of Black history didn’t make the agenda.

Republicans promised to hear the bill in summer study. The measure calls for more inclusion of Black Americans in the state’s history standards by the 2025 school year.  

The idea was to work out the issues and start debating it in January. 

The measure’s sponsor, Rep. Yusuf Hakeem, says the move to leave it off the agenda disrespects him and his constituents.

screenshot

Lawyers argued over Kentucky’s new $25 million tax credit scholarship program for private schools during a court hearing on Thursday.

The new law allows individuals and corporations to get tax credits for donating to “education opportunity accounts,” which can be used to pay for private school tuition and other education expenses.

The Council for Better Education sued to block parts of the measure, arguing it unconstitutionally uses public funds to prop up non-public schools.

Eric Harrington, a lawyer for the nonprofit education group, argued that the measure goes against framers of the state constitution.

J. Tyler Franklin

A Democratic state lawmaker has filed a bill to require public middle and high schools to teach the history of racism in the country.

Louisville Rep. Attica Scott’s bill would require schools to teach about a list of subjects including the slave trade, the Civil War, Jim Crow laws, residential segregation and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Scott says a group of students asked her to carry the bill.

“I definitely feel like schools are addressing some of these issues differently than other schools. But this is a more robust dig and dive into the history of racism of the combination of racial prejudice plus power and how it impacts people’s lives,” Scott said.

Scott’s proposal comes after a handful of Republican lawmakers proposed measures that would purportedly ban critical race theory in Kentucky schools.

J. Tyler Franklin

The Kentucky Department of Education is offering public school employees $100 to get the COVID-19 vaccine before Dec. 1. Kentucky Education Commissioner Jason Glass said the goal is to get more school staff vaccinated.

“Part of it is recognizing and rewarding those staff members who did the right thing early on, and it acts as an incentive for those folks to get vaccinated who have not,” he said in a press call with reporters Friday.

The department will use federal funds to reimburse districts that choose to participate in the program. Glass said KDE has set aside $8.8 million of state federal coronavirus relief funding, enough to give each of Kentucky’s 88,000 school staff $100.

J. Tyler Franklin

Kentucky state lawmakers have passed a GOP bill that ends the statewide mask mandates for public schools and child care centers. 

Public health experts, including the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention, say universal masking should be required in K-12 settings to curb the spread of COVID-19. But Republicans are siding with some conservatives who say mask mandates infringe on their First Amendment rights. Senate education committee chair Max Wise, a Republican from Campbellsville, said the bill gives decisions on masking to local school districts.

“They make that decision of what they think is best for their constituents and their communities,” Wise said.

A WFPL survey found nearly two-thirds of Kentucky school districts planned to keep masks optional before statewide mandates went into effect.

Democrats in both chambers balked at Republicans’ assertions they were protecting local control.

Wilson County Schools

Wilson County Schools will be enforcing a temporary mask mandate for students, staff and visitors starting Friday. The district will also begin to follow the state health department’s quarantine guidelines, specifically to send unvaccinated students home if they were exposed to COVID, even if they show no symptoms.

“I can’t sit and be quiet no longer,” superintendent Jeff Luttrell said at a school board meeting on Wednesday. “We got some problems and we need to take stronger measures in our schools.”

The new protocol comes after the district went under a weeklong closure due to a high number of cases. The school board voted unanimously in favor of both health measures despite disagreeing on these issues in weeks prior.

“I don’t love it, but I think we asked both sides for a compromise and I think that this is a compromise,” school board member Jamie Farough said.

J. Tyler Franklin

State lawmakers working in a special session on a pandemic relief bill for public schools are struggling to build consensus on how much flexibility districts should have in moving to remote learning. 

Republican leaders in both chambers have moved bills through committees that give districts 20 remote learning days, in addition to the 10 non-traditional instruction days they already have. The bills would also end the statewide mask mandate for schools and childcare centers, create a “test-to-stay” strategy and make it easier to hire substitute teachers.

Under the provision, districts could use 20 days to send a school, a group of students or a class into remote instruction—but not the entire district. 

Democrats, and some Republicans, worry 20 days won’t be enough.

Kevin Willis | WKYU

Kentucky Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman says adults have talked a lot about how the pandemic has impacted the mental health of K-12 students.

What’s too often missing, she adds, is the voices of the students themselves.

As part of an effort to reverse that trend, Coleman was in Bowling Green Wednesday for the first in a series of in-person and virtual meetings with students across the state designed to give young people the opportunity to express how they’re struggling under the weight of the uncertainty, anxiety, and stress related to COVID-19.

“We’ve heard a lot of talk over the last couple of years about mental health and how it’s affecting students. But we haven’t heard from students. It’s been an adult’s interpretation, or assumption, of how students feel, and why they feel that way, and how to help them,” Coleman told WKU Public Radio.


Ryland Barton

A Republican-led committee of state senators gave the greenlight Tuesday to a bill that would end statewide mask mandates for public schools and childcare centers. 

Supporters of the measure say it should be up to individual school districts and parents whether to send children to school in a mask. Opponents, including Democrats on the Senate Education Committee, point to guidance from health experts that universal masking is needed to curb the rapid spread of the delta variant of COVID-19.

The proposal is part of a larger education-related bill lawmakers are considering during a special legislative session to respond to the pandemic. Gov. Andy Beshear called the session after a state supreme court decision stripped many emergency powers from the Democratic governor and put them in the hands of the Republican-led legislature. 

The proposed legislation, known as Senate Bill 1, would end the Kentucky Department of Public Health’s mask requirement for childcare centers, as well as the Kentucky Department of Education’s mask mandate for K-12 public schools. School districts would have five days from the bill’s effective date to craft their own mask mandates, if they wish.

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