To approve an extra year or not approve an extra year?
Kentucky School Advocate
By Brenna R. Kelly
Kentucky school boards face a tight deadline to decide whether to allow students to take a supplemental year of school.
The General Assembly passed a bill this session that allows K-12 students to retake a year of school – but only if the school board decides to allow all of the students’ requests. Under Senate Bill 128, students had until May 1 to ask for the do-over year and boards have until June 1 to approve or deny all or none of the requests.
While many boards decided to wait to see how many requests came in before saying yes or no, Pike County Schools’ board was one of the first in the state to decide. The board voted unanimously on April 8 to allow students to repeat the year if requested by their parents.
“We looked at it as a district as more of an educational opportunity than an athletic opportunity. I’m afraid a lot of people were looking at it purely on athletics. That’s not what we did,” said Superintendent Reed Adkins. “I worry more about a second grader that didn’t get the math or reading they needed.”
Before bringing his recommendation to approve the requests to the board, Akins said he discussed the issue with school principals who all supported offering the extra year.
As the board debated the issue at its April 8 meeting, board chairman Ireland Blankenship said the bill was designed to support academics.
“That’s what it’s all about, making sure our children get a good academic education,” he said.
Board member Nee Jackson said he wished his daughter, a high school student, would take advantage of the extra year, even though she has gotten good grades.
“I don’t think there’s anybody, anywhere that can honestly say that they feel like that their kids have gotten the education that they would have gotten prior to this COVID situation,” he said. “We owe it to our kids to give them the best that we can. To me it’s a no-brainer to give them the opportunity.”
In addition to academics, Pike County board member Dewayne Abshire said he wished the bill had been enacted last year because his daughter, who was then a senior, missed out on many experiences.
“It would have been a blessing to me, she would have loved to have another year, not just to better her education but also to be able to experience the things that seniors get to experience,” he said.
But not all districts were quick to approve the measure. Adkins noted during the board meeting that not all superintendents support the extra year bill.
“I’ve talked to superintendents in western Kentucky and a couple in central Kentucky who hate the idea and their principals hate it,” he said, explaining that those superintendents fear a log jam of students.
After discussions with his central office team, as well as principals and athletic directors, Bullitt County Superintendent Jesse Bacon said he would not be in favor of recommending the supplemental year being available for Bullitt County’s 13,000 students.
“There is too much potential for unintended consequences,” Bacon told the Pioneer News. “Additionally, I believe avenues already exist for students in grades K-8 to repeat a grade level if they choose to do so.”
Giving high school students an additional year presents “a lot of challenges,” he said.
When he introduced the bill, Senate Education Committee Chairman Max Wise, R-Campbellsville, said that the many students who missed out on both academic, athletics and extracurricular activities this school year would benefit from an extra year of school. The bill also allows high school students an extra year of sports eligibility.
“This is a bill from my heart as a legislator and as a parent to allow our students to have the ability to come back, if they wish, and repeat (a year) for academic purposes,” he said.
Gov. Andy Beshear signed the bill on March 24 saying that he agreed that students who may have missed out on experiences due to the pandemic deserve another chance.
“The pandemic has deprived some students of priceless opportunities and memories,” he said. “This supplemental school year program will allow those students the chance to enjoy the same school year experience they expected a year ago.”
The Kentucky Department of Education has issued two guidance documents about implementing the bill. SB 128 states that students can use the “supplemental school year to retake or supplement the courses the student has already taken.” In their guidance, KDE staff have interpreted the bill to mean that students must take the same courses or courses that “bear a reasonable connection to previous courses to be supplementary in nature.”
Education Commissioner Jason Glass said in a communication to districts that KDE’s guidance is not binding and that it is up to districts to decide whether a course taken in the extra year supplements the course the student had the previous year.
“Ultimately, however, if a school district determines that completely new coursework at the next grade level is supplementary in nature, it must be prepared to assume any risk that comes with such an interpretation,” Glass said.
Wise told the Lexington Herald-Leader in April that, under the law, local districts should determine what is “reasonable” in coming up with their plans for the supplemental year.
“The legislative intent of SB 128 is for local control decisions and for innovative ways for implementing this in their plans,” he said.
In its guidance, KDE also points out several things for districts to consider before deciding whether to grant the supplemental year requests.
One of those is the timing of the decisions. Districts had to notify their school-based decision making councils of staff allocations by May 1, but if districts agree to allow the supplemental year, the total student population and staffing needs of each school could change. Other SBDM policies such as class size, scheduling and space allocation could be impacted.
Districts should also consider the impact on the schools’ and district’s graduation rate, the KDE guidance notes. The department warned that schools that have students using the supplemental year will have decreased graduation rates because the federal government tracks graduation rates by the number of students who graduate after four years. Schools that have a graduation rate under 80 are classified as Comprehensive Support and Improvement and graduation rate is also used in the state’s accountability system.
Local boards that decide to allow students to use the supplemental year must submit their plan to KDE by June 16.
Adkins, the Pike County superintendent, said he doesn’t know how many of the 8,000 students in the district will request to use the extra year, but several parents have inquired about the plan. Adkins said the district has communicated with parents about their student’s academic progress and testing has shown that students aren’t as behind as may have been expected.
“I feel like Pike County has done an outstanding job with our virtual learning, but I feel like you can’t replace a student in a classroom with a teacher,” he said. “That’s just irreplaceable, but I think we’ve done the best job possible.”
Once the district determines how many students will be repeating a year, each department will implement plans on how to handle courses, graduation and other issues. Adkins doesn’t anticipate a capacity problem because only a few of the district’s schools are full.
But he won’t know about staffing until after all the requests are in. However, if the district needs to hire more teachers, Adkins anticipates using some of the federal coronavirus relief funds.
“I’m afraid we'll be building that airplane as we are flying it,” he said. “That’s the scary thing.”
KSBA’s Director of Policy Katrina Kinman says that districts don’t need to change their policies because of SB 128.
“Since this is for a temporary situation, just for one school year, we don’t believe that there needs to be any permanent changes made to board policies,” Kinman said. Boards can waive current policies in order to deal with issues stemming from offering the supplemental year.
For example, boards that have graduation requirements above the state minimum can waive those requirements or waive part of their grading policy.
“So there are just lots of flexibilities that the board already has,” Kinman said. “And since this is for one year, and one year only, we don’t recommend going in and making those permanent changes before policies.”