FRANKFORT, Ky. (KT) - Problems encountered by local school districts in dealing with the coronavirus pandemic were heard by a legislative committee Tuesday.
The superintendents of McCracken County, Covington Independent and Whitley County schools testified remotely before the Interim Joint Education Committee.
McCracken County Schools Superintendent Steve Carter said after having to halt in-person classes during the spring, he was determined to ask the community how to proceed in the 6,700-student, western Kentucky district.
“In July, we called every family and surveyed them on who wanted to return to school,” he said. “Early on, we had about 80% who wanted to return. We also had administration contact each employee, either in-person or over the phone, about returning. In July, we only had one employee express concerns about returning.”
He said they currently have about 74% of students engaged through in-person learning districtwide. “Our high school is about 65% in-person and 35% virtual.”
Carter said over the summer they developed three contingency plans: full in-person instruction, a hybrid system with some in-person and some virtual and full virtual.
He noted there has been a big drop in proficiency since the pandemic, citing second-grade math testing as an example. “We had a 77% proficiency level last fall. This fall, we’re at 43%.”
His conclusion: “We really feel a need and benefit in getting our children back to in-person learning.”
Alvin Garrison of Covington Independent Schools testified that even though they are an urban district, internet connectivity was a problem, so they developed a plan to overcome that. “We partnered with the city and we are in the process of offering free Wi-Fi to all residents of Covington for the next five years.”
The only problem, Garrison said, is that it will take until December for full implementation. “With that in mind, we have had to buy hotspots for our kids. To get those out, we have worked with the United Way to help purchase them.”
With guidance changing from the Kentucky Department of Education and the health department, Garrison said, “We’re just working with that and dealing with the changes as we get them.”
One of the big challenges he says they face is impatience with the process by stakeholders. “Everybody wants to return to yesterday, and right now that’s not feasible. So, anxiety is high.”
Connectivity is an even bigger issue for the Whitley County Schools, according to Superintendent John Siler. “We partnered with Berea College and Verizon to purchase about 90 hotspots. But one of the barriers to that is to set-up a hotspot, our students have to have cell phone service, and some of them had inadequate service.”
Another issue is having enough substitute teachers. Siler said many of them are retired teachers who would fill in for teachers who are ill or on maternity leave but are now afraid to work due to COVID-19 concerns. He says they are working with the nearby University of the Cumberlands to have some of their education students fill in as substitutes.