Kentucky State Capitol

Kentucky State Capitol

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Kentucky school districts would get more flexibility to implement remote learning and hire retired teachers in a bill passed Thursday by the Senate Education Committee.

Senate Bill 25, sponsored by Sen. Max Wise and passed by the committee on a 10-0 vote, would grant districts up to 10 days to implement targeted remote learning closures through June 30 as they continue to deal with absences tied to COVID-19 infections and exposures.

Districts would be given 10 days for every school building for targeted distance learning in addition to the 10 nontraditional instruction days allowed for districtwide closures. District leaders could opt to send particular schools, grades, classes and other groups home for remote learning under the bill, said Wise, a Campbellsville Republican who chairs the Senate Education Committee.

“We are right now under a winter situation, but we also have COVID-19 with the variant that's out there,” Wise said, describing the targeted remote learning element of SB 25 “a surgical strike.

“… We need to move quickly in terms of the urgency of this.”

The 10-day limit for targeted remote learning was reached after collaborating with education groups and others, he said. Allocations of 20 days for select remote instruction passed by lawmakers in a September special session expired Dec. 31.

The committee’s vote on SB 25 comes as COVID-19 cases surge throughout Kentucky and the U.S. with the emergence of the omicron variant.

Jefferson County Public Schools Superintendent Marty Pollio said during a Wednesday news conference that a return to distance learning at Kentucky’s largest school district was “probable at some point in the next several weeks” amid the latest escalation of COVID-19 cases, and he urged lawmakers to give school districts more flexibility to utilize remote instruction as cases and exposures mount.

As of 1 p.m. Thursday, district data show more than 2,000 students and 650 staff at JCPS had active COVID-19 cases and another 2,000 students and nearly 100 employees were in quarantine.

JCPS, like other school districts, faces shortages of school employees and substitute teachers.

“Quite candidly, right now, we are at about a point where it's going to be difficult to continue on past this from where we stand right now,” Pollio said during a Wednesday news conference.

SB 25 also eases restrictions on school districts for hiring retired school employees back into buildings in hopes of easing staffing woes, such as expanding the numbers of retirees who can be hired back in critical shortage areas.

The bill now heads to the Senate floor for consideration.

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