Masks Expected to Be Part of State's Guidance on Schools' Reopening Plans
The Kentucky Department of Education's superintendents advisory council met Monday to discuss the reopening of schools in the fall, and district leaders will learn the state's planned guidance on Wednesday when it is announced by Governor Andy Beshear.
“Our goal here is to work with our other partnering agencies across the state and in state government, and working with you to provide you the support you need to reopen schools safely and also to do it in a way that is responsive to the needs of your community,” interim Education Commissioner Kevin Brown said to the superintendents.
Much of the conversation revolved around the Department of Public Health's recommendation that schools require both faculty and students to wear masks when in the school building and when social distancing is not possible.
“It is the one thing that we can do, and I think if we have our education leaders see that as an expectation … and model that, it’s going to make that harder for students (to not wear masks),” said Dr. Connie White, deputy health commissioner.
Todd Allen, interim general counsel for the Kentucky Department of Education, said schools will need a clear policy or procedure for how to respond when a student refuses to wear a mask.
"We certainly wouldn't physically force a mask on any student,” he said, adding that teachers and staff will need to know how to respond from their local districts.
Brown said he understands the difficult decisions superintendents will have to make when it comes to safely reopening schools.
“One of the things we're facing is our society expects and backs up school leaders for students to have shoes on. Our society expects and backs up school leaders for students to keep their shirts on during school,” Brown said. “And so it's generally not a problem to keep shoes and shirts on kids because our society backs that up. The problem we're having right now is ... we don't have a societal expectation of wearing a mask, unfortunately.
"And it's to some degree starting to become a divisive issue in our communities. And so that really is placing school leaders in a conundrum."
White added that countries that previously mandated the use of masks have seen drastic decreases in the number of COVID-19 cases.
While it will be the expectation of DPH to ensure students and faculty are masked, there are exceptions for students who have heart conditions, asthma or other underlying conditions.
White recommends that districts utilize the medical records of students to determine when a student cannot be masked in the school.
“There are certain people with certain conditions who can’t wear masks,” she said. “ … We already know who those folks are. People aren’t going to suddenly develop an asthma condition so they don’t have to wear a mask.”
Brown recommended that districts use best effort while determining when it is feasible for a student to wear a mask and when it is not.
Participation and Funding
As districts begin to plan their instructional method for the 2020-2021 school year, Associate Commissioner Robin Kinney of KDE’s Office of Finance and Operations told the SAC that she does not want funding to influence their decisions.
When determining their 2020-2021 Support Education Excellence in Kentucky (SEEK) funding – the primary funding source for districts – districts were allowed flexibility from the passage of SB 177 (2020) to choose whether they wanted to submit their 2018-2019 or 2019-2020 school year attendance data for calculations. Kinney said 14 of Kentucky’s 172 public school districts decided to use their 2019-2020 data for 2020-2021 funding purposes, feeling that this data was an accurate portrayal for their district.
“It is our recommendation that we move forward with what was in SB 177,” said Kinney. “So attendance and funding will be taken care of for the next school year.”
Kinney said that instead of counting attendance next school year, districts will need to count participation.
If students are in the classroom, participation will be counted if they are present. If the school is utilizing remote learning, participation can be counted by logging in to their device or similar methods.
“The other piece that we could still use your input and help with is how to really capture that participation by students who do not have the full access to technology,” said Kinney.
Kinney encouraged the superintendents to continue to pursue technological opportunities for these students, but said it may not be possible to provide for every student.
Kenton County Schools Superintendent Henry Webb said his district used participation logs in the spring, but added that this idea could be enhanced by adding a completion of assignment log.
“Each student who completes the assignments, that work could be gathered for each student to have that as supporting documentation,” he said.
Kinney said the plan would be to provide a participation report to the Legislative Research Commission at the end of the school year to show the participation by Kentucky’s school districts.
Brown said KDE will issue a memorandum, subject to the approval of Lt. Gov. and Secretary of the Education and Workforce Development Cabinet Jacqueline Coleman, and recommend an emergency administrative regulation to the Kentucky Board of Education that will determine how participation and funding will be counted if Kentucky continues forward with an adjusted opening in which schools reopen with staff shortages or social distancing measures that impact capacity, or with the possibility of some schools being unable to reopen.
“You can bank on the fact that you’re going to have an alternative way that we can flow funding to you for this next school year because of this unique situation,” said Brown.
Brown said that the next school year could be used as a “conversation starter in the next General Assembly about the future of education funding.”
“We will have a small taste of a little bit of an alternative because of next semester and the unique challenges,” he said. “But, obviously, long-term it would take action from the General Assembly to change the overall SEEK formula.”
The SAC is scheduled to meet again on July 20, but may meet on July 6 to discuss the Healthy at School guidance document.