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Local board members discuss school reopening

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Kentucky School Advocate
September 2020

By Brenna R. Kelly
Staff writer

Local school board members expressed frustration at trying to balance the benefits of in-person classes with the safety of their students and staff as they decide when to reopen schools.

Members of the Kentucky Department of Education’s Local School Board Member Advisory Council met Sept. 3 with KDE and public health officials to discuss those issues and hear updates on the state’s Healthy at School guidance.

Nelson County board member Diane Berry said she understands that it’s important for students to return to classes, but she questioned the trade-off of potentially spreading the coronavirus.

“To me, it's the health that is more important right now, their mental health and their physical health,” Berry said, adding that many students live with their grandparents.

Kentucky Deputy Public Health Commissioner Dr. Connie White agreed that board members face a hard decision.

“There’s all kinds of reasons that any answer you give is a good one, and any answer is a bad one,” White said. “We are concerned that with the increase in cases, we feel that that balance is tipping toward (stopping) a deadly virus that spreads very quickly.”

Woodford County board member Ambrose Wilson asked whether districts should consider statewide or local cases. White noted that teachers and staff often live in other counties.

“So even though our county might be doing well over the last seven days,” White said, “I think you have to recognize that that county is not an island and there’s going to be continued activity going on around your county and coming into your county as well.”

Hardin County Board member Charlie Wise said his district started in-person classes two days a week on Aug. 24. He noted that the district has seen more cases in students who are learning virtually than students who have been in the buildings.

“I feel like in our staff, teachers, everyone’s gone the extra mile to do everything possible to keep our students safe,” he said. “And I know that our students are happier, parents are happier. Things are going well.”

The meeting was Kevin Brown’s last as interim commissioner of education, with new Commissioner Jason Glass taking over the role on Sept. 14. Brown will return to his role as general counsel for Jefferson County Schools.

“I just appreciate so much the leadership that you have shown Kevin, and we’ve missed you,” said Jefferson County board member Linda Duncan. “But it was time well spent for you to be where you were. So thank you so much.”

During the meeting, Glass, a Kentucky native who had been superintendent of a Colorado school district, introduced himself to the board members saying he was looking forward to raising his family in his home state.

Glass said he knows that the reason members serve on the local school board is that they love the kids in the community.

“I always have deep respect and appreciation for those that serve on a local scale. It’s not for the money that you make doing the job. It’s out of passion and care for the community,” he said. “So, I also look forward to working with all of you on how we can improve services and experiences for young people in communities all across the state.”

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