Area Legislators Concerned Local Control Endangered By Mandates Disguised As Recommendations
By: Representatives Michael Meredith, Steve Riley, Bart Rowland, Jason Petrie, and Steve Sheldon
School administrators and teachers have been preparing to return to school for five months, knowing that this school year will look like no other in our history but realizing that education is essential to the well-being of the children and families they serve. They began those efforts by reaching out to parents across their districts to measure concern, identify needs, and determine what options to offer for “Back to School.” School districts have invested time, energy, and money into developing plans to provide a quality education while keeping our children safe. They were prepared to implement in-person learning and virtual learning, and in some cases a hybrid of both. They are ready to get back to work educating our children.
That effort hit a roadblock this week when Governor Beshear “recommended” a delay for in-person classroom instruction. We use the term recommended loosely because a recommendation would provide the information and resources needed to make the best decision possible. A recommendation recognizes that what works in Louisville may not work in Brownsville, Morgantown, or Tompkinsville and what is right for Bowling Green might not be right for Glasgow, Elkton, or Russellville. This seems to be more of a mandate than a recommendation. We have learned from school leaders that the Kentucky Department of Education is applying intense pressure with the threat of repercussions that include padlocking schools and drowning districts in bureaucratic red tape. Furthermore the strong arm nature of the recommendations have left school leaders scrambling to consult with their attorneys and insurance providers to find out if they face additional liability issues that could cripple their budgets if they choose a different path.
We naturally question why the Governor has once again issued a directive without the input of the very people who must enforce it and repair the damage left behind. Our educators, administrators and the local school boards were charged with crafting plans to safely reopen. These same educators, administrators and local school board members have extensive training in education and school governance and they recognize the potential damage caused when a child is denied access to the educational, social, and emotional support provided by our public schools. It is our teachers and administrators who see children who come to school each day with an empty stomach and without basic school supplies. It is these same teachers and administrators that provide a stable, supportive environment for children facing physical abuse or neglect or who have a parent struggling with substance abuse. Eliminating in-person education ignores the significant number of children who may not be abused or neglected, but lack access to high speed internet.
Our educators and administrators recognize the benefits of in-person instruction, and more importantly, the short and long-term impact in-person instruction has on a child’s physical and mental health and development. At the least progress for many of these students will slow; at the worst, some may fall behind forever.
COVID-19 is a real health concern we take very seriously. Because this pandemic will, undoubtedly, affect our foreseeable future, we support taking steps that stop or slow the spread of COVID-19. We encourage all Kentuckians to wear masks and practice social distancing to keep Kentucky healthy. And, while we are hopeful that these steps will reduce the impact COVID-19 has on all aspects of our society, we simply cannot stop living and preparing the next generation of Kentuckians. Our focus should remain on the education and development of our children.
Governor Beshear’s recommendation suggests “one size fits all” across the school districts of this great Commonwealth. The recommendation also suggests school officials and parents can’t be trusted to make decisions best suited for their situations. Both suggestions couldn’t be more inaccurate; decisions about in-person vs. virtual instruction and school start dates should be decided at the local level by our local school board members and superintendents. What Governor Beshear calls a recommendation, we call overreach. Overreach against the very people we trust to educate our children and keep them safe. Our school boards, administrators and teachers deserve the opportunity to complete the task they have been given –educating our children – without interference and threats of retaliation from Frankfort.
Rep. Michael Meredith represents Edmonson County and a portion of Warren County; a retired educator and school administrator, Rep. Steve Riley represents Barren County and a portion of Warren County; Rep. Bart Rowland serves Hart, Metcalfe, Monroe, and a portion of Hardin County; Rep. Jason Petrie represents Logan and Todd counties and a portion of Warren County; and Rep. Steve Sheldon represents a portion of Warren County.