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'We've Got A Lot Of Upset People.' Local Kentucky School Leaders Feeling Pressure From Parents

Josh James

Kentucky superintendents and school board representatives say the latest coronavirus-related delay is putting local school leaders in a difficult spot and sparking serious backlash among parents.

Speakers invited before the state interim education committee Tuesday said local districts mapped out detailed plans for their reopenings, only to have the Beshear administration step in and urge a six-week delay. While the move was described as a recommendation, Spencer County Superintendent Chuck Adams said districts are under pressure to comply.

"When you have recommendations with a list of consequences that was given 24 hours later, that's not a recommendation. That's a mandate under the disguise of a recommendation," Adams told lawmakers. "We've got a lot of upset people."

Beshear has said he will not use executive orders to close schools except in extreme situations, but interim state Education Commissioner Kevin Brown has said schools that don't go along with the new guidance can expect a conference call with state leaders with the goal of changing their minds.

The situation is leading to confusion in regions where surveys show parents heavily favoring a return to in-person classes, and residents are taking out their dissatisfaction on local officials, school staff, and other parents.

"I hope that damage has not been done, lasting damage, to the entire common school system," Eric Kennedy with the Kentucky School Boards Association said, worrying aloud about "things that have been said and done about teachers, about parents, and certainly about school board members."

Gov. Beshear has said local restarting plans remain important, but the run-up in virus case numbers ahead of school start dates necessitated the delay on in-person instruction. The recommendation lasts through September 28th.

One issue dogging many district leaders deals with data specifically why the state can't provide more fine-grained numbers when it comes to COVID-19 spread at the county level.

While a number of hurdles affect how the state collects and measures virus trends, including some nearly 20-year-old systems, state Public Health Commissioner Dr. Steven Stack explained one scenario that complicates county-specific data during an online meeting with superintendents Monday.

"You have patients who live in county A, they go drive across the county line to go to a hospital or doctor's office where they get tested in county B, and then they may go drive to work in county C," Stack said. "And so what happens when we draw these map lines, people go across those with regularity."

As for colleges and universities, which are being allowed to move forward with their reopening blueprints while K-12 is facing more interruptions, Dr. Stack said there are important differences to consider with college students.

"Because those are all adults, they have access to cars. Because they go to stores, restaurants, and bars, they functionally interact like someone just is part of the community," the commissioner answered, adding that it's a "bit different than taking a defined community and putting them all in classrooms."

Asked what advice will sound like in late September when the governor's recommended delays for K-12 end, Stack said that will depend on how well Kentucky sticks with safety measures such as masks and social distancing and the impact the virus continues to have on the commonwealth.

Josh James fell in love with college radio at Western Kentucky University's student station, New Rock 92 (now Revolution 91.7). After working as a DJ and program director, he knew he wanted to come home to Lexington and try his hand in public radio.
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