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Remote learning, COVID-19 emergency order extension bill clears both chambers

Published: Jan. 13, 2022 at 6:38 PM CST
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BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (WBKO) - As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, so does the Kentucky General Assembly’s commitment to addressing the Commonwealth’s pandemic-related needs.

On Thursday, the legislature gave final approval to Senate Bill 25, which seeks to extend a number of COVID-19 executive orders and offer schools some additional flexibility on remote learning.

Upon the governor’s signature, the bill will give public school districts up to 10 remote instruction days per school for the remainder of the 2021-22 academic year.

That will allow superintendents to move specific classrooms, grades, or schools experiencing an increase in COVID-19 cases to temporary remote instruction instead of having to shut down entire schools or school districts at once.

Rep. Scott Lewis, R-Hartford, and Rep. Bart Roland, R-Tompkinsville, presented the bill on the House floor before the vote.

Rowland said SB 25 is similar to emergency measures that lawmakers adopted in the 2021 Extraordinary Session, some of which are set to expire on Saturday. SB 25 will continue the COVID-19 state of emergency to the extent necessary to secure federal funding and reimbursements, he said.

In explaining the education portion of the bill, Lewis said although SB 25 is similar to a bill from the 2021 Extraordinary Session, the guidelines for remote learning were changed to help avoid large-scale shutdowns of entire schools or districts.

Both Bowling Green Independent Schools and Warren County Public Schools superintendents see how helpful this piece of legislation could be when deciding to close schools.

“By having this ability to use NTI in a specific school, where maybe we have a large number of students out or a large number of staff members is really where we’re worried that we could, you know, not have a school there in person, do it virtually, but keep everybody else in person,” said Gary Fields, Bowling Green Independent Schools superintendent.

“We’re optimistic that we won’t be in a position where we need those additional days,” said Rob Clayton, Warren County Public Schools superintendent. “But the fact that they are going to be there, again, provided that the bill is passed and signed by the governor, it will provide a benefit not only to Warren County Public Schools but across the Commonwealth.”

Students in Bowling Green have the opportunity for students to take home Chromebooks, so they are able to complete their school work. However, teachers still have to report to the building unless they are in quarantine.

Both intendants said their teachers are doing the most for their students.

“We have teachers who are, you know, covering other teachers classes during their planning time, we have guidance counselor’s covering classes, principals covering classes, in they’re all doing that in the in the belief that having kids in person is the most effective way to teach kids,” said Fields.

“The pandemic is really just exacerbated that challenge again that we’ve been experiencing for a number of years. And as time has gone through, it continues to become a bigger and larger challenge for our staff. But, our leadership is doing an outstanding job of minimizing those challenges,” said Clayton.

In order to keep both districts open, they said they are in need of substitute teachers to help fill the gaps as the omicron variant spreads within their schools.

RELATED: WCPS to use NTI day Friday following illness, staff availability

House Minority Floor Leader Joni L. Jenkins, D-Shively, voted “yes” on SB 25, but said she felt the process was rushed. Jenkins wrote two amendments changing to end the requirement for teachers reporting in-person on COVID NTI days. However, she withdrew these amendments.

“I think among the body there’s probably a whole lot of concern that things aren’t covered in this bill,” she said.

When considering changes made to SB 25 by the House, a few Senate members also expressed frustration with the process and disagreed with changes to the bill.

Sen. Max Wise, R-Campbellsville, is the primary sponsor of SB 25. However, he voted against the final bill after it was amended in the House. So did Sen. Wil Schroder, R-Wilder.

“I have questions just with the process,” Schroder said. “You know, Senate Bill 25 left the Senate Chamber as a 4-page bill relating to education, and I agree that it did have some COVID measures in there. But it came back under the House Committee Substitute as a 12-page bill with all these emergency orders in there.”

SB 25 contains an emergency clause, which will allow it to become law immediately upon the governor’s signature.

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