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How Ready Are Ky. School Districts For Closure During Coronavirus Outbreak?

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When Gov. Andy Beshear said Wednesday that districts need to be ready to close with 72 hours notice, some districts were ready; others were not, based on a sample made by WFPL News.

One of the biggest challenges confronting districts is how to continue providing instruction when their students are not in classrooms.

Many districts already have state-approved plans for continuing instruction during closures, called Non-Traditional Instruction (NTI) plans. These districts have already created materials to send home with students during a closure. Many plans include digital instruction. Students who don't have computer access are supposed to get paper packets at the beginning of the school year, and are encouraged to reach their teachers by phone with questions during the closure.

This is what Harrison County schools have been using since the district closed Monday, after officials announced the county had the state's first confirmed case of infection from the coronavirus.

"You're doing the best you can without a teacher right there in front of you in a classroom setting," Harrison County Schools Chief Academic Officer Jenny Lynn Hatter said.

Hatter said while students are home, teachers have reported to work, and spend the day talking to students on the phone, video chatting and emailing families. Some staff have taken trips to students' homes to drop off packets and materials, along with meals.

Districts Scramble To Create Remote Instruction Plans

NTI plans are optional, and more than half of the state's 172 districts don't have one, including Jefferson County Public Schools and Fayette County Schools. Now, they're scrambling to get plans and materials together. The state has agreed to waive certain parts of the NTI application process so that districts can get plans approved for this school year. Having an NTI plan means up to 10 closures can count as instructional days, so districts won't have to make them up at the end of the year. That saves schools money, and allows learning to continue.

In Fleming County, school superintendent Brian Creasman said his district is in the process of getting an NTI plan together. One of the main challenges is that about 20 percent of the county doesn't have internet access.

"It is very important for us to make sure that we have not only online learning resources, but paper-based resources as well," he said.

Creasman said teachers and principals have already designed packets to be sent home, and were instructed Wednesday morning to start printing them and making copies. But he's still hoping they won't have to use them.

"We are facing this unknown - an unknown timetable, an unknown of, 'how this is going to impact our school district.' So we need to be prepared," he said.

Creasman said the district is also figuring out how to keep providing meals to students who rely on free or reduced-price breakfast and lunches at school.

"We don't want to jeopardize the community by bringing people together," he said. "We could drop-off in the community. We could have a drive-thru process where people do not get out of their vehicles."

Even though Jefferson County Public Schools, state's largest district, with more than 100,000 students, does not have an NTI plan, JCPS superintendent Marty Pollio said the district is nonetheless prepared for possible closure.

"We have spent the majority of the past 7-10 days developing supplemental materials for our students at every single grade level," Pollio said during a press conference Wednesday. The materials will be available online and schools will also hand out paper copies, he said.
A spokeswoman for the district said officials are "still working through how meals would be provided to students." Around 65 percent of the district's students rely on free or reduced-price meals at school.

In Hardin County, teachers and principals have surveyed students and parents about their technology options, but have not yet started creating materials to send home.

"Are we ready to go into non-traditional instruction as of right now? The answer is no," spokesman John White said. "But we can get ready."

White said Hardin County may rely on make-up days already built into the school calendar if schools are forced to close.

"We're available to make up time all the way through through the month of June if we have to," White said. "Not saying that's what we'll do, but...that's a possibility."

How About Parents?

As districts scramble to figure out how to keep kids learning at home, parents have to figure out how they will continue working when schools and childcare centers are closed for an extended period of time.

"A lot of parents have to go to work, even if school is closed," Laura Herhold said, who runs the Facebook group "Moms Of Louisville."

Herhold helps parents find childcare or programming when school is out. But it's not clear whether the usual options will be available.

During snow days many parents in the greater Louisville area have used the YMCA, the Kentucky Science Center or other community partners for childcare. YMCA and JCPS officials say they're still considering their options with guidance from the health department.

Jess Clark is LPMs Education and Learning Reporter. Email Jess at jclark@lpm.org.