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Bowling Green Superintendent stands by teachers 'who do an amazing job' as Kentucky General Assembly comes to a close

WKU Public Radio

With the Kentucky General Assembly wrapping up this week, multiple bills that would impact classrooms across the state are in the hands of Gov. Andy Beshear.

The Democratic governor has been a proponent of increasing educators' wages and put forth a proposal that would both increase teacher pay by 5% and combat the teacher shortage the state is experiencing. The governor's proposal did not gain traction in the General Assembly this session.

Instead, Republicans have sponsored a bill that has drawn criticism as censoring what can be taught by teachers in the classroom.

Senate Bill 5 was not vetoed or signed by Governor Andy Beshear after passing out of the House, permitting it to become law. The law would impact the curriculum taught in classrooms and is being criticized as a book-banning measure that allows parents to challenge books or materials they believe is harmful to minors.

Opponents of the bill say it will disproportionately target books with LGBTQ+ themes and authors. There is also concern the bill places limits on teaching curriculum that will negatively affect future educators and further exacerbate the teaching shortage in the state.

Gary Fields, Superintendent of Bowling Green Independent School, said he’s concerned the legislation could ultimately lead to pushback against teachers.

“We try to legislate to things that may be happening in one place in the state, and we’re trying to legislate to a whole state, and it makes it very difficult,” Fields said. “It really questions the professional judgment of our educators who do an amazing job every day.”

One of the bills signed into law recently by Gov. Beshear would make it easier for Kentucky educators to remove chronically disruptive students from classrooms. House Bill 538 allows schools to place problem students in remote learning or expel students for up to a year if they make threats against others. Proponents of the bill say it would give teachers more authority in the classroom.

Some educators have concerns the bill would lead to disproportionate discipline based on a student’s race and have suggested that mental health services and counselors might be more effective in dealing with disruptive students.

Fields said disciplinary circumstances inside classrooms vary significantly across the state.

“Anything we can do to help with student discipline to make sure kids aren’t causing a disruption that takes aware learning from other kids is a good thing,” Fields said. “But I think we always have to be careful when you're trying to legislate classroom discipline policies from Frankfort, for the diverse school districts and areas of the state it becomes difficult.”

Fields said the Bowling Green Independent School District is able to use federal COVID-19 funding for three full-time mental health counselors available for students. The district also has a partnership with a local mental health provider that serves students and families. Long-term funding to keep these resources in place would need to be provided by the state, according to Fields.

"We've become a one-stop shop for a lot of services for students and families," Fields said. "We have mental health counseling, we have school nurses, and a nurse practitioner for physical health needs. We have the ability to feed kids. We are a community option district where all students are eligible for free breakfast, lunch, and an afternoon snack. It's all important."

Fields said overall he feels encouraged by the job his teachers and school employees are doing.

"Seeing the joy following the pandemic return, tells me that we're really getting back to why people got into the profession ... to make a difference in the kid's lives."

This story has been updated at 4:10 CST.

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Jacob Martin is a Reporter at WKU Public Radio. He joined the newsroom from Kansas City, where he covered the city’s underserved communities and general assignments at NPR member station, KCUR. A Louisville native, he spent seven years living in Brooklyn, New York before moving back to Kentucky. Email him at Jacob.martin@wku.edu.
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