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'Concern, Fear, And Confusion.' Lawmakers Hear Educator Plans, Worries About Fall

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When it comes to the in-person-versus-distance-learning debate amid the COVID-19 outbreak, Kentucky school districts are far from landing on the same page. That's the word from a spokesman for the state's School Boards Association, one of several statewide education leaders who aired concerns in front of lawmakers in Frankfort.

Kentucky Education Association President Eddie Campbell said, as he talks with educators around the state, he's hearing "a great deal of concern, fear, and confusion surrounding the reopening of schools."

Those fears range from staffing issues — whether the teacher shortage combined with retirements may leave schools short-handed — to concerns about sufficient funding for high-standard cleaning and personal protective equipment. Big question marks also hang over paid leave for teachers if they are called upon to quarantine multiple times during the year.

But one of the most complicated assignments facing schools is finding agreement between teachers, staff, parents, and health experts on what combination of in-person and at-home learning is ideal for each district. And right now, opinions are all over the map, according to Eric Kennedy with the Kentucky School Boards Association.

"An overwhleming majority of staff and students in one district say we're ready to go back in person. In another district, it's the opposite. Many places are in the mix, 50-50," he explained. "So that reflects the diversity of feeling on this."

For now, districts are shooting for as much in-person instruction as is safely possible — and considering ways to socially distance the maximum number of students, so as to avoid disputes over masking requirements.

In the meantime, the head of Kentucky's High School Athletics Association says the state is developing ground rules for sports during the upcoming semester, but when it comes to specifics, the ball is still in COVID-19's court.

"We are still planning for fall sports," Commissioner Julian Tackett said. "What that looks like could change, just like the data related to the virus changes."

Tackett told the interim joint education committee Tuesday that nearly all options are on the table this fall as the state hopes to revive lapsed athletics programs. That could mean shuffling sports to different seasons and requiring local school boards to sign off on out-of-state team trips.

The commissioner noted that, in addition to getting students engaged and keeping them healthy, athletic and extracurricular activities also play a key role in retaining students.

"We are also, in very many communities, the number one dropout prevention tool that you have," Tackett argued. "There are people in our communities that every one of you know would not be participating if there was not athletics or activitity opportunities."

Tackett said no season is set to start before the beginning of August, which will give Kentucky officials time to assess the state of the coronavirus outbreak at that point and observe how other states with more aggressive sports schedules are faring.

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