Lt. Governor Coleman, School Officials Talk Public Schools In Paducah Area Chamber Breakfast
Kentucky Lieutenant Governor Jacqueline Coleman and Paducah and McCracken County Schools superintendents spoke Thursday on Zoom about public schools reopening during the coronavirus pandemic. Paducah Area Chamber of Commerce hosted the August Power in Partnership Breakfast.
Coleman said in preparation for the upcoming school year, the state waived the cap on non-traditional instruction days and removed the average daily attendance requirement that is used for school funding.
“Our statutes for education are written as if every single student is in the building or every student is out of the building. For instance, snow days would be a good example of that,” Coleman said. “If we had certain kids in school some days and certain kids in school other days, that would impact our schools financially and they would not be able to operate the way that we need them to.”
Coleman said state officials decided schools could use previous years’ attendance as their mechanism to receive funding. She said that allows schools to go to an A/B or hybrid schedule.
Coleman said officials also gave school districts the opportunity to extend unlimited COVID-related emergency days to staff. She said this decision was made for the purpose of quarantine.
“If for some reason a teacher became exposed at school with all of the many students and families they would come in contact with, they would be able to utilize those emergency days to quarantine without having to use their own sick days when they’ve come to school to do their job,” she said.
Coleman said a state partnership with the federal government called Expanded Care will help schools provide behavioral, physical and mental health services to students. She said Expanded Care is a three-to-one federal match.
“For every dollar that a school puts in to a mental health professional, let’s say a school nurse for physical health or behavioral health services. The federal government will kick in three dollars.”
Coleman said she also wrote a letter to the education official in every state asking them to join her in requesting the federal government help fund the services they need to keep kids safe in school.
“I’ve had a great response from leaders across the country who are joining me in my request to our federal delegation in Kentucky, but also to the federal Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. I made the request that not only do we need another round of CARES funding for our state and our local budgets to keep us moving forward, but the primary focus is that a huge portion of our budget goes toward education in Kentucky.”
Coleman said by making sure that the state and local governments have what they need, they are also taking care of school districts.
Paducah Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Donald Shively said schools are providing in-person and online options. He said students need to have masks on when boarding buses and will get their temperature checked before walking into the school. Paducah schools are looking at 50% capacity for this upcoming semester.
Shively said school officials believe they can have six feet between every student in every class through the whole district. He said his district has gotten creative with its schedule, which allows “release valves” for mental health and school evaluation.
“We’re going to go six weeks and have a release valve with Fall break, six weeks we’ll do NTI for all children over Thanksgiving weeks, so students won’t be in school. We’ll go three weeks until Christmas break. Six weeks and then we’re going to just take off a week in February because it’s flu season on top of a pandemic. Six weeks until Spring break and then six weeks until we’re out,” he said.
McCracken County Public Schools Superintendent Steve Carter said district officials have tried to be creative in finding ways to achieve social distancing so students do not have to wear masks during the whole school day. Carter said the district is also adding staff on school buses to help alleviate strain on bus drivers. He said they will have unique pickup and dropoff spots within their school zones to isolate entry and exit points.
“And a major change that we have is we’ve modified some of our bell schedules and our buses to allow for separation of grade levels. So this year high school students will be on their own route, middle school students will be on their own route and our elementary schools will be on their own route,” Carter said.
He said if there is a positive case, schools can isolate it and prevent it from being a widespread issue. He said 25% of students in his district have opted for the online classroom, while 75% have opted for in-person schooling.
Paducah and McCracken County schools open August 24.