Lisa Autry

Some Kentucky teachers are rolling up their sleeves for the COVID-19 vaccine, and doing so ahead of schedule.  

The state’s rollout for school employees wasn’t scheduled to begin until late Jaunary or early February, but some communities have enough vaccine to let educators and support staff jump to the front of the line.

While the state is still rolling out the vaccine to health care workers and long-term care residents, some counties have moved on to the state’s next phase, which includes educators and all school staff such custodians, bus drivers, and cafeteria workers. 

School personnel from Warren and Simpson counties are now getting the vaccine by appointment only at a mass distribution clinic operated by The Medical Center in Bowling Green.

Lori Dubree, the school nurse at Lost River Elementary, this week checked in at the Health Sciences Complex on the Medical Center campus where vaccinations are taking place.

Western Kentucky University

Western Kentucky University has announced a program aimed at buying out certain workers who want to end their employment. The goal is to adjust the school’s operating budget.

In an email sent to faculty and staff Wednesday, WKU executives said the Voluntary Separation Incentive Program is to “make appropriate workforce  adjustments and create opportunities for organizational renewal and invention.” 

WKU leaders said the incentives for separation or retirement are a result of “the COVID-19 pandemic, declining state support, enrollment changes and other evolving dynamics affecting higher education.”

Facebook/Owensboro Public Schools

Owensboro Public Schools will return to a hybrid schedule with in-person classes beginning Thursday, as school districts across Kentucky continue to adapt during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Owensboro Public Schools will have students in the “A” group attend in-person on Monday and Tuesday. Students in the “B” group will be in the classroom Thursday and Friday. Wednesday is an intervention day for students who need extra help.

Owensboro Public Schools Superintendent Matthew Constant said the current schedule can change, depending on the number of COVID-19 cases.      

J. Tyler Franklin

Kentucky lawmakers will return to Frankfort on Tuesday for an unusual legislative session in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic.

Unlike most years when committee rooms and galleries can be packed with advocates, lobbyists and other interested parties, access to the Capitol will be limited, though many proceedings can still be accessed on KET’s website.

Legislators will be faced with weighty issues: they’ll need to pass a one-year budget amid uncertainties about how much money the state will bring in, respond to the coronavirus pandemic and Republican leaders say they want to strip Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear of his power to respond to the pandemic.

Beshear has said he wants to find new revenue sources for the state during the economic crisis—including initiatives like sports betting and medical marijuana, which have gotten limited support in previous years.

Office of Gov. Bill Lee

Gov. Bill Lee is calling a special session of the legislature to address urgent education issues related to the pandemic.

In an announcement released Tuesday, Lee says that the state expects proficiency in math and English test scores to drop by more than half. In a special session, he says the legislature will equip teachers and school districts with “resources and supports” needed to combat learning loss.

It’s unclear what that will mean in practical terms, though the governor’s office says the bills will address funding, teacher and district accountability for test scores, literacy and teacher pay.

Edmonson County Schools

Students in Kentucky, and across the nation, are riding a roller coaster of in-person and virtual learning created by the pandemic.

The superintendent of Edmonson County Schools said his district is ready for the Jan. 4 reopening and changes scheduled to happen one week after that.

Edmonson County students will begin school on Jan. 4 with all remote instruction.  

That’s in line with the governor’s recommendation in case of a spike in COVID-19  cases after the holidays.  

Starting Jan.11, the district will return to the staggered schedule of in-person classes two days a week, for those who choose to be at school, and virtual learning  the other days. 

flickr/Emory Maiden

Gov. Andy Beshear has signed a new executive order making certain health and safety guidelines mandatory for schools returning to in-person classes on Jan. 4. Beshear announced these measures on Monday. His order gives them the force of law.

The order makes a portion of the “Healthy At School” guidelines mandatory. Previously these had only been recommendations. The document, created by the Department of Public Health and the Kentucky Department of Education, is divided into “expectations” and  “best practices.” The “expectations” become mandatory under Beshear’s order. These guidelines are mostly around mask-wearing, social distancing and cleaning.

Many of the expectations are flexible. For example, desks only have to be spaced 6 feet apart, if possible.

J. Tyler Franklin

Gov. Andy Beshear’s executive order halting in-person classes will remain in effect, after the U.S. Supreme Court decided Thursday not to take up Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron’s challenge against the order on grounds it violates religious freedom.

“Under all of the circumstances, especially the timing and the impending expiration of the Order, we deny the application without prejudice,” the justices wrote in a Thursday opinion.

The justices note that Beshear’s order will expire soon. But they leave open the possibility the suit could be brought again, if, for example, Beshear renews his executive order. 

Justices Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch dissented.

Facebook/Bowling Green Independent Schools

Educators across Kentucky, and the nation, are facing the challenge of keeping students engaged during virtual learning.

The Bowling Green Independent School District has staff members who reach out to make sure students stay connected during the pandemic.

“We have a lot of adults who are going out in the community every day, knocking on doors, tracking down students and families and trying to figure out where they’re living and why they’re not participating in virtual learning,” said Gary Fields, superintendent of the Bowling Green School District.

Thomas Galvez/Creative Commons

The state is creating a new committee called the Commonwealth Education Continuum to address gaps in the education system from pre-K to college.

Gov. Andy Beshear said Thursday it will bring together 27 people with expertise in early childhood education, K-12 education, higher education and workforce development. Beshear said the goal is to bridge gaps between them.

“One agency alone cannot tackle the many issues facing public education,” he said.

The committee will be led by Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman, President of the Council on Postsecondary Education Aaron Thompson and Education Commissioner Jason Glass.

“It really is a matter of taking what we have and all of the parts that exist across Kentucky of folks who are committed to public education and bringing us together so that we can all work together in a much more efficient way,” Coleman said.

J. Tyler Franklin

Private religious K-12 schools will be expected to close Monday, along with public ones, under a ruling from the U.S Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals handed down on Sunday. The panel of judges overturned a lower court decision that blocked Beshear’s executive order from affecting private religious schools.

The appellate court ruling overturns a prior ruling from U.S. District Court judge Gregory Van Tatenhove that had found Beshear’s order impinged on First Amendment rights to religious freedom. Van Tatenhove had sided with Danville Christian Academy and Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron in their request for a preliminary injunction blocking the order from impacting private religious schools.

In the Sunday ruling, the appellate court disagreed, on the grounds that the order did not specifically target religious schools.

Creative Commons

Gov. Andy Beshear has appealed a federal court’s decision that he can’t order religious schools to close as a coronavirus precaution.

Attorneys for the state on Thursday asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for an emergency stay stopping the injunction granted by U.S. District Court Judge Gregory Van Tatenhove on Wednesday. The judge agreed with Danville Christian Academy and Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron, saying Beshear overstepped when he included religious schools in his order that schools statewide stop in-person instruction for three weeks.

Van Tatenhove expanded the injunction from Danville Christian Academy to all private religious schools in the state. The battle comes as coronavirus cases are at an all-time high, and increasing exponentially.

Owensboro Public Schools

Gov. Andy Beshear’s executive order closing schools to in-person learning next week is drawing mixed reactions from school leaders around the state.

The Kentucky Education Association (KEA) praised Gov. Beshear’s decision to close all public and private schools starting Nov. 23, calling it “a step that will save lives.”

Meanwhile, Kentucky Association of School Superintendents (KASS) Executive Director Jim Flynn said opinions vary among the state’s 170-plus district leaders.

“There are some that are relieved of this, and then I know there are some that are disappointed,” Flynn said.

Kentucky Department of Education

The Kentucky Department of Education's first ever chief equity officer has experience with adversity, segregation, and public schooling.

The Arkansas native and nationally honored former school superintendent, Dr. Thomas Woods-Tucker, plans on taking those lessons with him to the Bluegrass State.

The Kentucky Board of Education issued a resolution in July declaring its commitment to addressing inequality. It was a move that helped convince Woods-Tucker to take the position.

During a conversation this month WKU Public Radio, just days after starting the job, Deputy Commissioner Woods-Tucker said few other states have taken that step.

A school district in southeastern Kentucky has shut down in-person and virtual learning through the end of November because of the spread of COVID-19. 

Perry County Schools Superintendent Jonathan Jett said in a social media post this week that the continued spike in coronavirus cases has led district leaders to the conclusion that in-person learning isn’t possible for the rest of the month. 

The superintendent said the decision to also shut down virtual classes was made in hopes of adding in-person classes at the end of the academic year in May.