FRANKFORT, Ky. — As the clock is ticking on summer, schools are scrambling to put plans into place to get children back in classrooms safely.
Lawmakers on the Interim Joint Committee on Education heard concerns from school associations about getting kids back into schools. Some of the concerns expressed by educators surround the “Healthy at School” guidances released late last month which include requiring students to wear masks and have their temperatures checked.
“We’re hearing across the board from students, staff, families, and the overall community that districts being able to pull that off is a big concern,” said Eric Kennedy, Director of Government Affairs for the Kentucky Association of School Boards. “ We’re doing everything we can to help districts plan for that. First and foremost in the guidance, if you can socially distance, you don't necessarily need to require masks in the same way.”
Many teachers are concerned they will not be able to enforce students wearing masks especially as the country remains divided on whether they are necessary or not, however, the Kentucky Department of Education says it’s necessary to keep everyone safe in the classroom.
“I don’t want to discount the difficulty of what you’re saying but it is an expectation and it is going to have to happen,” said Kevin Brown, Interim Commissioner of KDE. “There obviously will be students that will want to defy that and that's going to be a very difficult classroom management obstacle.”
Schools also fear the requirement to take the temperature of each student will be challenging and possibly not necessary.
“We’re concerned about the benefit versus cost, there's logistical challenges, financial challenges on these temperature checks,” said Dr. Jim Flynn, Executive Director of the Kentucky Association of School Superintendents.
Flynn added many children do not show symptoms like fevers if they have a virus so the requirement could be more trouble than it’s worth. This was another guidance that Brown said KDE cannot budge on.
"The temperature check is not foolproof but it is the best indicator of potential exposure to COVID and the most frequent indicator, as opposed to all the other typical symptoms and so it's very important that we continue to have that now,” he said.
Many of the concerns surround when or how the temperature can be checked of students since many take busses to school that do not have monitors on it to mitigate that concern the department says the temperature checks can be done three different ways: when a student gets on the bus from home, when a student leaves the bus upon arriving at school, and upon entering the entryway of a school. To address the cost concern Brown says the state has purchased around 12,500 thermometers to provide to schools throughout the state.
Lawmakers say ensuring these requirements are followed will rely on everyone.
"It's gonna have to be some way of teachers playing a role and it's going to be others of trying to come together the best way that we can,” said Sen. Max Wise, R-Campbellsville. "I think if we want to see things get back to normal so we have to do our parts but once again every community is going to be different.”
Flexibility for different school districts to react to the changing situation relating to the virus is another thing schools say is necessary when talking about having children back to schools since a rural district will have different needs than an urban one. Schools are also asking that lawmakers continue to provide flexibility with non-traditional instruction (NTI) days as well as the calendar of when schools need to start and end.
“We need our policymakers at every level of government to be agile as flexible with us as we impart on the task of reopening our schools,” said Dr. Flynn.
Teachers often buy supplies for their classrooms themselves — the Kentucky Education Association is concerned this may be the case for the personal protective equipment (PPE) that will be required as well as students of different means having the same access to education if they are required to continue more of their education from home.
"Students need access to technology, high-speed internet, nutritious meals, supports, and curriculum resources to be successful, they need all of that right now,” said Eddie Campbell, President of KEA. "In an era of COVID, we need to ensure that resources for cleaning, sanitation, hygiene, and PPE are also readily available.”
Wise agrees there needs to be flexibility when the school year begins but believes having in-person instruction is necessary especially when it relates to younger students.
"I think in elementary and middle school levels the first few weeks of school are your most important for that teacher-student relationship and then if we have to make changes in the school year so be it,” he said. "But I think once again we can do it in a safe manner and I think it needs to be a safe approach. But I think as much traditional normalcy that we can get back to I think will be the best."
While children will be back in the classroom in the fall, they could also be back on the field or court, the Kentucky High School Athletics Association told lawmakers they are planning to have fall sports this year.