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Kentucky State Capitol, Frankfort, Ky.  March 6, 2020. 

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Kentucky’s General Assembly has approved an emergency measure to allow school districts to request an unlimited number of non-traditional instruction days for remote learning as they close for at least two weeks, and possibly longer, during the global COVID-19 pandemic.

"Right now it is unclear how long school districts will be out," said House Speaker Pro Tem David Meade, R-Stanford. 

The House voted 84-0 on the measure Thursday, and the Senate approved changes made to Senate Bill 177 on a 30-0 vote that evening.

The bill now moves to Gov. Andy Beshear for his consideration.

SB 177 comes as more than 80 school districts, including Jefferson County Public Schools, have applied for the state’s non-traditional instruction program, which allows them to offer remote learning opportunities during closures without needing to make up days later.

If approved by their local boards, all 172 public school districts in Kentucky will join the non-traditional instruction program offered by the state.

The Kentucky Board of Education unanimously passed a waiver Wednesday opening the program for the rest of the 2019-20 school year. That's also included in SB 177.

The Jefferson County Board of Education unanimously approved the district's remote learning plan during a special meeting Thursday.

That plan directs students to complete at least five projects from their "choice boards" every week. Materials have been made available in phyiscal and digital formats for students.

JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio said the district will provide 25,000 Chromebooks to students in the coming days. He's also working with Louisville Metro government and providers to expand internet access to families in need.

"We know without connectivity, Chromebooks won't do a lot of good," he told the school board during its first virtual meeting. Beshear has directed boards and commissions in the state to work remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic.

JCPS teachers will also meet with students through Google Classroom during the closure, Pollio said, adding that he expects the learning program will be "a very powerful model" for other school districts across the country to emulate.

The state's non-traditional instruction program is currently capped at 10 days, but districts will be allowed to request as many as necessary from the Kentucky Department of Education.

SB 177 would direct KDE to seek federal waivers for state assessments and accountability measures, something the U.S. Department of Education has indicated it will offer in response to widespread school closures throughout the country as COVID-19 spreads, Meade said. 

Waivers for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act would also be sought under the bill, he said. 

"One of the biggest roles that this will play is where there are deadlines for certain areas of special education students, such as their (individualized education programs)," Meade said.

It would also allow Kentucky's education commissioner to waive the 1,062-hour minimum required instructional time for school districts impacted by extended closures, if evidence for the need is presented, and grant emergency leave for certified teachers and staff affected by the global pandemic, Meade said.

Full- and part-time classified employees are also covered by the emergency leave provision during the novel coronavirus outbreak, and the amount of emergency leave granted is determined by local schools boards, according to the bill.

Districts would also be allowed to continue serving free lunches to needy children during the extended closures and use attendance data from the 2018-19 school year to determine their average daily attendance for state funding under SB 177, Meade said. 

Virtual instruction and tutoring will also be allowed under the bill, something House Speaker David Osborne has said was sought by JCPS.

If signed into law, SB 177 will be retroactive to March 6. Harrison County Schools was the first district to temporarily stop in-person instruction after the first COVID-19 cases in Kentucky were identified in Harrison County.

Beshear, who recommended the two-week closures, and Pollio have said schools may be asked to close longer. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently issued guidance that said all gatherings of more than 50 people should be postponed for at least eight weeks to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

JCPS and other districts are currently scheduled to resume in-person classes on April 6.

Pollio said Thursday that a return on that date is "highly unlikely."

"I anticipate that we will be out multiple weeks past that," Pollio told board members.

On Thursday, Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb shuttered schools until at least May 1 as the number of COVID-19 cases there rose to 57, though one reported case has not been confirmed by the state. 

The number of confirmed cases in Kentucky climbed to 47 on Thursday, Beshear announced during his daily coronavirus briefing.

"We closed through the end of next week," Beshear said when asked about school closures in Kentucky in light of Indiana's decision. "People ought to expect for it to be extended. We don't have that announcement at this time."

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