Kentucky House lawmakers passed a bill Wednesday that would require school districts to offer all students at least two days of in-person learning a week, beginning March 29. The measure’s passage adds to mounting state-level pressure on Jefferson County Public Schools to bring students back to the classroom.
There are just six Kentucky school districts that have not yet brought students back to the classroom, most notably JCPS, the state’s largest district. The Jefferson County Board of Education will vote Thursday on whether to move forward on a plan to bring students back after staff are fully vaccinated.
JCPS superintendent Marty Pollio’s proposal would meet the minimum requirements for in-person learning in the House bill. But some Jefferson County school board members are worried reopening would increase community spread of COVID-19. If the Senate approves the House bill, it could force JCPS to move forward on its reopening plan, no matter how the local board votes.
Rep. Joni Jenkins (D-Louisville) voted in favor of the bill, though she said she was worried about the legislature intervening in local issues.
Rep. Felicia Rabourn (R-Turners Station) supported the bill, though she suggested it did not go far enough. Rabourn filed an amendment that would have required schools to open by March 1.
“Students are failing, and they need to be back in the classroom, and as soon as possible,” she said.
Rep. Tina Bojanowski (D-Louisville), a teacher, said Wednesday on the House floor she supported the bill, but she worries about the amount of standardized testing that will be required when students return.
“Do we really want to bring our children back into the buildings, after really being concerned about their mental health being at home and not in school, and subject them to anxiety-provoking testing during this academic year?” she said.
Standardized testing usually takes place over several weeks in the spring. The testing is federally mandated, and last year the U.S Department of Education waived Kentucky’s testing requirement because of the coronavirus pandemic. This year, the Biden administration has said they will require some form of standardized testing.
The House bill passed 87-8. Those opposed included many Democratic Jefferson County representatives, and Marion County Republican Rep. Lynn Bechler. The measure goes to the Senate for further consideration.