LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Gov. Andy Beshear has directed school districts to continue providing distance learning for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year as Kentucky tries to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, according to the Kentucky Department of Education and district leaders.
The governor held a conference call with school superintendents throughout the state Monday, after which KDE said school districts were advised to remain closed to in-person instruction through the end of the year.
"Every health-care professional had advised us that this is the right course of action to take," Beshear said during a Capitol news conference Monday. "... This is something I think our superintendents were expecting and planning on."
Jefferson County Public Schools, Kentucky's largest school district, advised parents Monday that it will follow Beshear's guidance and continue its nontraditional instruction plans through the end of the 2019-20 school year, currently scheduled for June 3.
Beshear had previously directed districts to remain closed through May 1 in hopes of mitigating the spread of COVID-19. Schools across Kentucky have ceased in-person instruction since mid-March. All 172 Kentucky school districts have transitioned to the state's nontraditional instruction program.
While JCPS is scheduled to finish the school year June 3, the district and others may be able to conclude their work sooner than their planned final days based on new guidance from the state to help schools reach their required 1,062-hour minimum for instructional hours.
The Kentucky Department of Education is allowing districts to count nontraditional instruction days as seven-hour equivalents, which means districts will be able to wrap up work by May 29. Many will be able to finish classes by mid-May, according to the state.
If schools can't hit the 1,062-hour mark due to hardships or if Beshear recommends stopping remote learning for public-health concerns, districts can seek assistance from Kevin Brown, interim education commissioner, to maximize learning opportunities, according to KDE.
If all else fails in those circumstances, Beshear could waive the 1,062-hour requirement by executive order.
Despite reports of "NTI fatigue" across the state, "our students require continued instruction using the only operable education delivery platform available to us at this time," Brown told superintendents on Monday's conference call, according to KDE.
"Our kids are suffering from a lot of anxiety right now, and I believe the structure that you are providing is not only giving them intellectual enrichment, I believe it helps on the emotional end," Beshear told superintendents.
Beshear also announced his recommendation Monday that schools find alternative methods to conduct graduation ceremonies, such as virtual or drive-in commencements.
Proms must also be canceled in light of the COVID-19 outbreak, he said.
The governor urged districts to find creative ways to celebrate the accomplishments of students as they enter key transition points, namely graduating from high school
"It's not fair," Beshear said. "... A worldwide pandemic has hit us, and those of you who are missing out on these opportunities, we need your help and we need your sacrifice."
"The experience you're losing is hard, but your willingness to do it is going to help us save lives," he added.
Beshear and others, including JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio, had frequently suggested that shuttering schools for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year was a distinct possibility as the global pandemic progressed.
Several states, including Indiana and Ohio, have already called off K-12 classes for the rest of the school year.
Schools and other youth activities will remain closed when the state begins the first phase of lifting restrictions on public health measures instituted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to plans unveiled Friday by Beshear.
"Most services this summer have to be offered in a nontraditional way," Brown told superintendents.
Even then, the first phase of the plan to gradually reopen Kentucky's economy won't begin until the state sees a a decline in the number and rate of positive novel coronavirus cases over a two-week period, among other parameters.
Beshear announced a new daily high of 273 COVID-19 cases on Sunday.
During his call with superintendents, Beshear declined to speculate on potential impacts to the start of the 2020-21 school year.
"I’m committed to do all I can to help this state meet the benchmarks to have as normal a school experience in the fall as possible," he said.
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