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Kentucky Education Board Preps For Unusual School Year, Welcomes New Commissioner

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AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall
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The Kentucky Board of Education voted through a series of COVID-19-related emergency waivers Friday in a bid to untangle issues like attendance and funding. Yet some members noted a growing chorus of concern about reopening plans among teachers and parents as fall start dates approaches.

To ensure schools receive the necessary funding, which is calculated by physical attendance in classes, the board moved to adopt a more flexible system in light of the current circumstances. Under the plan, students will be listed as "participating" — a broader term meant to encompass both in-person attendees and remote learners.

For students in areas without consistent internet service, the board discussed the use of WiFi hotspots, and telecom providers and nonprofits stepping in to provide wireless coverage.

The KBE voted to allow districts to use older attendance data going back to 2018 to calculate their funding, if newer numbers aren't deemed reliable.

But members also acknowledged a growing level of anxiety among teachers, staff, and parents over how schools can create safe environments for adults, especially those with health conditions that put them in higher risk categories. Allison Slone, the first active, full-time teacher to serve on the board, brought up what some of her colleagues see as a double standard.

"There is a concern that why are we still being virtual and meetings still being virtual when we're asking and planning for teachers and employees to go back into schools," she said.

The comments then moved from that topic to a discussion about how the school system is working to supply teachers and staff with personal protective equipment.

Capping off the meeting was an announcement that Dr. Jason Glass has been selected as the new state education commissioner.

A native Kentuckian who grew up in Brandonburg, Glass did his undergraduate work at the University of Kentucky before holding several positions in the Colorado Department of Education, earning him a nomination by former President Barack Obama to service on the National Board for Education Sciences.

Introduced during the online meeting of the board, Glass used his opening remarks to endorse the board's unanimously-approved resolution affirming a commitment to racial equity in public schools, passed just minutes before.

"Members of the board, I want you to hear that, as your commissioner — and I want you to hear this clearly — that I am committed to taking on this important work of anti-racism and equity within all of Kentucky's public schools," he said. "Our best evidence that we truly mean what we say on this matter will be taking action."

The incoming commissioner said, despite the multiple crises facing the school system and the country, Kentucky can emerge stronger.

"I also believe that we will rise to meet the challenges before us and create an education system the children of the commonwealth deserve, and I know that our best days are still before us," Glass added.

The state education commissioner post has seen relatively frequent turnover in the last seven months, with former commissioner Wayne Lewis departing amid a shakeup of the board under Gov. Andy Beshear. Kevin Brown then took over as interim commissioner.

Glass's new contract is being considered by the state board, which will vote on it during a special meeting.

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