Local schools can now use as many nontraditional instruction (NTI) days as needed due to the novel coronavirus outbreak after Governor Andy Beshear signed a bipartisan bill offering the state's school districts relief from the pandemic's impact.
Legislators approved the bill Thursday evening, and Gov. Beshear announced he had signed it during the daily coronavirus update he delivered on Tuesday. It included an emergency clause allowing it to take effect immediately.
The governor last Friday asked superintendents to extend school closures from the original end date of March 27 until at least April 20 in an effort to slow the virus' spread.
“It provides relief for school districts due to this emergency,” the governor said. “They’ll have unlimited NTI days instead of being capped. They’ll waive in-student person attendance requirements and ultimately help out our school system a lot.”
NTI plans allow students to keep learning at home if schools close, with lessons often consisting of book work or online activities. Such days don’t have to be made up at the end of the school year.
When the statewide school closures began on March 16, Somerset Independent and Science Hill Independent school districts had just applied to the state for NTI days for the first time while Pulaski County Schools have utilized the days for several years through their iLearn program. Under normal circumstances, the state will approve a district's application for a maximum of 10 days.
"We are very proud of the selflessness and sense of service to students displayed by the faculty, staff, and administration of Somerset Independent Schools throughout this difficult time," Somerset Schools Superintendent Kyle Lively said. "Teachers and instructional assistants were able to provide NTI packets for every student in the district and disburse them in a matter of days. Our food service department and transportation department are doing amazing work, feeding 417 students today. This has grown from just over 100 the first day. We have an incredible group of employees that go above and beyond to ensure our students are getting uninterrupted educational services as well as meals."
Science Hill Independent Supt. Jimmy Dyehouse agreed his district is doing well considering the extraordinary circumstances.
"We are meeting academic needs with our NTI days and staying in contact with kiddos through Zoom video chats as well as Google Classroom," he said, adding the same goes for feeding students breakfast and lunch each week.
According to Pulaski Schools Supt. Patrick Richardson, the county system had already used two NTI days when the Governor first asked that school districts close. At that time, the district was planning to apply for 10 more when the state reopened the application process in response to the coronavirus update.
SB 177 is truly a relief for local school officials.
"I appreciate the Governor's leadership through this process," Supt. Richardson said. "The relief measures that are in SB 177 will assist districts greatly.
"Our teachers, assistants, and building level administrators have been and are doing a great job preparing iLearn lessons and communicating with parents and students through various means," Richardson continued.
The superintendent also had high praise for Pulaski's cooks and bus drivers. "They are on the front lines every day meeting the needs of our students," he said. "Last week they served over 17,000 meals and in the first two days of this week they have served over 10,000 meals. I commend all of our staff for making the best out of a bad situation to service our students."
Gov. Beshear also announced Tuesday that Kentucky Department of Education Commissioner Kevin Brown is canceling this year's K-PREP testing — the commonwealth's version of federally-mandated annual assessment — after receiving permission from the U.S. Department of Education.
"There's no way we can do it safely this year," Beshear said, "and no one is going to be penalized."
"We are thankful for the relief provided by Governor Beshear and the legislative body by the passing and signing of SB 177," Supt. Lively said. "Likewise, we are grateful for [Interim Commissioner of Education] Kevin Brown's pursuit of assessment waivers from the U.S. Department of Education."
"These are different times that have called for drastic measures," Supt. Richardson said. "The decision to waive state testing is a good one based on the high stakes accountability that our state demands on students, staff and districts."
"I'm definitely in agreement on waiving state testing this year," Supt. Dyehouse said. "It would have put teachers and students at a major disadvantage to miss this much school and then try to take such an important assessment."
Dyehouse summed up the feelings undoubtedly shared by everyone in the local districts. "We really miss our students and can't wait to get them back to school and back to normal."