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Gov. Andy Beshear announces executive order that expands in-person instruction in Kentucky

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(FRANKFORT, KY Feb 23, 2021) – Gov. Andy Beshear announced an executive order during his Feb. 23 media briefing that recommends all public school districts offer or expand in-person instructional opportunities beginning March 1, or seven days after district personnel receive their second COVID-19 vaccination.  

Students, educators and staff will be required to wear face coverings while on school grounds and inside school district transportation at all times, subject to the exceptions listed in the face coverings order, Executive Order 2021-070, and any renewal orders.  

“This is one of the ways that we can keep everybody in that school safe,” Gov. Beshear said. “It’s going to be incredibly important, especially for districts that may go back for the first time, that this is strictly enforced.”

Schools will need to evaluate ventilation systems and consider appropriate safety procedures, as well as reduce density in classrooms, halls, schools buses and other areas of heightened risk.

“While we believe we can have a safe resumption of in-person learning, in our larger school districts it is a challenge that requires what is already happening; a lot of communication,” Gov. Beshear said. “… But I believe, with what we now know, … that specific plans can be achieved where everybody can ultimately feel as comfortable as we can in the midst of COVID.”

The order also advises schools to continue to comply with the health and safety expectations outlined in the Healthy at School guidance document.

Additionally, as of March 1, all school requirements tied to the color-coded COVID-19 county incidence rate are discontinued, Gov. Beshear said.

Schools should, however, regularly review the map to ensure they are making informed decisions to help limit the spread of the virus in their local community. According to the order, if a county experiences a spike in positive cases, school leadership should consider postponing, canceling or scaling down activities. 

Though the order calls for expanded in-person learning, all public schools shall continue to provide meaningful virtual options for all students who choose to remain in non-traditional learning for the remainder of the school year.

“As we’ve seen throughout the pandemic, there is no replacement for in-person instruction,” said Commissioner of Education Jason E. Glass. “We respect Gov. Beshear’s authority in issuing this executive order and look forward to working alongside our districts as they work their way back to a new normal.”

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) has worked to provide clear and up-to-date guidance to facilitate school operations in a safe manner. On Feb. 22, the department released "KDE COVID-19 Guidance 2.0," which represents the culmination of that work.

This comprehensive resource features guidance from all nine KDE offices, with many of the included components being previously issued as stand-alone documents.



Statewide Assessment Testing

Glass said he is disappointed in a Feb. 22 announcement by the U.S. Department of Education (USED) that requires Kentucky to administer statewide assessments for the 2020-2021 school year.

Many states, including Kentucky, had asked for a waiver of the testing requirement due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Glass said he wishes states would be allowed more flexibility on whether to hold testing, but that the decision appears to offer a window for waiving accountability provisions. There also are some options for flexibility on how the testing is offered, and KDE is researching those, he said.

KDE has released two guidance documents in anticipation of offering statewide tests this spring. The “COVID-19 Participation in Spring 2021 Kentucky State Testing,” includes flexible test windows, a reduction in the time for assessment administration, where possible, and an option to bring in small groups of full-time virtual students for in-person assessment. The “Kentucky Summative Assessment Administration Guidance 2020-2021 School Year,” provides specific guidelines for test administration, test accommodations, safety expectations and staff training.

Use of Retired Teachers

Many districts have sought advice on using retired or soon-to-be-retired teachers to help cover for absent colleagues during the pandemic. Beau Barnes, deputy executive director and general counsel for the Kentucky Teachers’ Retirement System (KTRS), addressed those questions.

“Retired and retiring teachers certainly can be used in the classroom, but there are limitations,” he said.

Federal tax law prohibits any prearrangement between a retiring employee and their employer for that person to return to work, Barnes said. To avoid trouble with the IRS, retired teachers must take a 12-month break before returning to teach full time in their previous district, or a three-month break before returning part time to that district or full-time in a different district, he said.

None of the federal restrictions have been eased due to COVID-19, Barnes said. There may, however, be advantages for teachers and districts in using staff during the summer months.

Barnes urged people to contact him at KTRS with questions or for further details.

COVID-19 Guidance Compilation

On Feb. 22, KDE released a searchable 136-page manual containing the latest versions of all of its guidance documents for schools and districts on operations during COVID-19.

The “KDE COVID-19 Guidance 2.0” includes all guidance released from May 2020 to the end of January 2021, said Kelly Foster, KDE associate commissioner in the Office of Continuous Improvement and Support. There are not any substantial changes to the guidance in this document.

“We just put everything in one place where you could search for it, rather than having to go through the individual documents on the web,” she said.

The Guidance 2.0 document can be found in the reopening section of KDE’s COVID-19 webpage. There also are individual links to any guidance released since Feb. 1, Foster said.

Broadband Speed Testing

Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman urged superintendents to promote the Kentucky Broadband Initiative Speed Test in their communities.

“It literally takes 30 seconds; it’s completely anonymous,” she said.

Providing better broadband service has been a high priority for the Beshear administration from the start, but the state won’t know where to focus its efforts without knowing the existing weak points for service, Coleman said.

The results will be used to build a map of service levels. If people don’t have internet service at home, they can log on at a friend’s house or local business, enter their home address, and specify that they don’t have home internet service, Coleman said.

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