Education

School districts across Kentucky are trying to decide whether to offer students a chance to repeat the 2020-2021 academic year, to make up for what some parents believe was a period of lost learning due to the pandemic. 

A new Kentucky law allows districts to let students in grades K-12 retake a full year of classes, possibly for a better grade. The measure also allows students, including some graduating seniors, to participate in an additional year of athletics. 

Lawmakers left it to individual school districts to decide whether or not to offer the “supplemental school year.” Families must submit their requests to participate by May 1, and districts must decide by June 1 whether to offer the program. Districts can’t pick and choose which requests to grant—if they decide to offer the supplemental school year, they must oblige all who request it.

The Jefferson County Board of Education is meeting next Tuesday to discuss the issue.

Kentucky Education Commissioner Jason Glass told superintendents this week during a superintendents’ webcast there are many unknowns to consider.

“We don’t yet know how many students will take advantage of this, and it could be that there are multiple years of impact,” he said.

For example, students repeating high school years could put a dent in schools’ four-year graduation rates. That could negatively impact schools’ state ratings, and carry consequences under state and federal school-improvement regulations, such as leadership changes.

Considerations For Students

The courses students are supposed to take in their “do-over” year are supposed to be the same ones they took during this school year, or should have a “reasonable connection” to those courses. Lawmakers did not define that  connection.

If a student does not want to repeat the same courses and there are not any other appropriate courses, “then this might not be the best option for them,” the Kentucky Department of Education’s Meredith Brewer said during a superintendent’s webcast Tuesday.

Some districts may allow students to use the do-over year to improve their grades. For example, if a student repeats a class they failed in the 2020-2021 year  and passes, the passing grade could be counted toward their GPA instead of the failing one. It’s up to districts to decide how to use the redo year in grading. However, seniors who graduate in spring 2021 would not be able to use the supplemental year to change their grade.

Considerations For Athletes

Students who take the supplemental school year are eligible for another year of interscholastic athletics, as long as they meet the age restrictions set by the Kentucky High School Athletic Association (KHSAA). If a student turns 19 before August 1, they are no longer eligible to compete in high school sports.

All students will participate in sports according to the rules for the grade they are repeating. For example, a 8th grade student using the supplemental year to repeat 8th grade would not be eligible to play 9th grade soccer or football.

Considerations For Graduating Seniors

Students who officially graduate in the spring of 2021 will be able to participate in the program (if offered by their district), but they will face some extra stipulations.

To participate in an additional year of athletics, graduated seniors will have to enroll in at least four hours of coursework at the high school during the repeat year, according to KHSAA commissioner Julian Tackett

If an athlete is interested in competing in the NCAA Division I, the organization is still using the grades and coursework for the first four years of their high school career for certification. Students will not be able to apply coursework taken in a supplemental school year after graduation toward the NCAA certification.

While districts may allow students in lower grades to recalculate their GPAs  with their better, do-over year grades, this will not be allowed for seniors who graduate this spring and return to take courses next year. Kentucky Department of Education lobbyist Chuck Truesdell said that’s because state law does not allow student’s grades to change once they have officially graduated.

“Their transcript is locked…their GPA is frozen,” he said. 

However, there will be a record of the supplemental courses they take that colleges, universities and employers may take into consideration.

Graduated seniors will also not be eligible for the dual-credit program or for Work Ready Scholarships. That means if they want to earn college credit through high school coursework in their repeat year, they may have to pay the full tuition and fees charged by the college or university. These would normally be covered or reduced in a dual-credit program.

Jess Clark is WFPL's Education and Learning Reporter.