LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- The superintendent of Kentucky’s largest school district says he has “a lot of concerns” about legislation passed this week by the General Assembly meant to help public schools navigate the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lawmakers passed Senate Bill 1 by wide margins Thursday and later overrode a line-item veto striking its nullification of the Kentucky Board of Education’s emergency regulation requiring universal masking inside public school buildings. Several Republican lawmakers questioned whether Gov. Andy Beshear could legally veto sections of the bill because it was not a spending measure.
Jefferson County Public Schools will continue to require students, staff and visitors to wear masks indoors because of a policy previously passed by the Jefferson County Board of Education, Superintendent Marty Pollio said Friday.
Other school districts quickly announced plans to either continue requiring masks indoors or consider such policies in the aftermath of SB 1 and amid the recent escalation of COVID-19 cases. The emergency regulation mandating universal masking in public schools will expire after five business days, and the new law prohibits the state education board from passing similar regulations until June 2023.
Kentucky Education Commissioner Jason Glass called the decision to lift the state’s school mask mandate in SB 1 “terribly ill-advised.” He praised school districts that have announced plans to continue requiring masks indoors and said neither the state education board or Kentucky Department of Education are considering additional administrative actions in response to the new law.
“The legislature has made its decision, and we’ll work to mitigate and manage the consequences of that decision going forward,” Glass said.
SB 1 provided up to 20 remote learning days for school districts to use for certain schools, classrooms or groups of students because of COVID-19 cases and exposures.
Pollio said he would have liked to see lawmakers give districts additional nontraditional instruction days, which are limited to 10 by state law and apply to entire district closures.
Juggling school personnel as staff need to quarantine or stay home with children after potential COVID-19 exposures is a “major concern” for JCPS, he said.
“It is a struggle every day to meet the needs of our kids in classrooms,” Pollio said. “I was in Seneca High School this morning walking down the hall after a class change, and we jumped in a classroom because they were waiting for coverage from a substitute teacher moving from one class to the other.”
Exactly how JCPS will determine using its 20 remote learning days remains unclear. Pollio said he would have preferred 20 remote learning days per school rather than for the entire district.
“We send central office certified staff to schools to help support, keep open, cover things that schools might need, so it’s really been all hands on deck with all the quarantining to continue in-person school,” Pollio said. “… I’ve told our principals this is our reality, and we’re going to stay open every single day that we possibly can.”
Pollio praised moves by the legislature to implement a COVID-19 testing program to help those potentially exposed to the coronavirus avoid quarantining if they test negative and ease restrictions on hiring retired school employees.
Recruiting retired teachers will be “a game-changer” for JCPS, he said.
“A retired teacher in essence can make above six figures to come back into a classroom without (the Kentucky Teachers Retirement System) or JCPS really losing anything because we’re paying what we would pay for an experienced teacher to be in the classroom,” Pollio said.
Still, he said navigating the rest of the first semester of the 2021-22 school year could prove challenging for JCPS and other school systems throughout the state even with help provided by lawmakers in SB 1.
“With the amount of quarantines we have and really until we can get younger students vaccinated, it’s going to continue to be a challenge, and I really believe this,” Pollio said. “Our rural districts are going to struggle just as much if not more than Jefferson County Public Schools because in many ways we have more resources when it comes to bus drivers and employees.
“I don’t think this is just a JCPS or a Fayette County Public Schools thing. I think you're going to continue to see districts close and struggle with this over the months to come.”
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