Student survey offers lawmakers insight of COVID impact

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At the Interim Joint Committee on Education meeting, Sen. Reginald Thomas, D-Lexington, asks a question about the safety of reopening schools.

FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ) – Non-Traditional Instruction (NTI) during the pandemic did not look the same for every student in Kentucky, according to research presented by two upcoming Kentucky high school seniors.

This data, along with other testimony, led lawmakers on the Interim Joint Committee on Education to discuss whether individual school districts should decide when to return to school and when to close school due to COVID-19.

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The high school students, Krupa Hegde and Gabriella Staykova, shared data compiled from a student-to-student survey on how students across the Commonwealth have been handling the COVID-19 pandemic. The survey was led by the Student Voice Team of The Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence.

The “Coping with COVID” survey includes 9,500 responses from students across 119 counties. The survey examined each student’s education environment, home environment, physical and mental wellness and future plans.

“One of the main themes we found in our home environment was a change in employment …,” Hegde said. “We truly felt that employment is changing for both students and their caretakers during this pandemic with 13.3 percent having to take on more hours at work and nearly 1 out of every 3 students had parents who had lost hours at their work. Sixty percent of students reported feeling more worried about money and 5.6 percent of students were reportedly more worried about food.”

Other findings of the study included that a reduction in interactions with teachers made students less motivated and engaged. There was also a 50 percent increase in the number of students who wanted but lacked mental health care access from 9.8 percent to 14.9 percent.

In the second half of the meeting, Eric Kennedy, director of governmental relations for the Kentucky School Boards Association, and Jim Flynn, executive director for the Kentucky Association of School Superintendents, shared their respective organizations’ belief that reopening schools should be left to the individual districts.

Last week, Gov. Andy Beshear issued a recommendation that Kentucky schools should not reopen to in-person instruction until Sept. 28.

“There is so much diversity across the communities of Kentucky that there really should not be a one size fits all approach to this issue for providing education and reopening school,” Kennedy said, using the example that closing for a flu outbreak or inclement weather is left to individual school districts.

Both Kennedy and Flynn believe the individual school districts can take the guidelines for returning to school set by the state and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention while factoring in the needs of the parents, students and teachers to make the decision that is best for them.

Decisions currently are left up to ad made at the local levels. The state has not ordered districts when to open or whether to use in-person or online.

“At the same time, we recognize that the virus is not completely predictable and there may be times statewide action is needed for the safety and welfare of our students, staff and school families,” Flynn said on behalf of the association he represents.

Committee Co-chair Rep. Regina Huff, R-Williamsburg, noted that although many believe students should return to school, that doesn’t mean no one cares about the health of students and teachers.

“I wholeheartedly agree with your sentiments about local control and how it’s not a one size fits all as you compared your district, Jefferson County, and my district, Whitley County,” she added. “It’s just a totally different scenario and situation regarding this virus across the state.”

Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, D-Louisville, expressed concern about the virus spreading to vulnerable adults.

“But when they go home to grandma or grandpa or mom or dad who has diabetes or cancer or whatever … that’s where the rub is,” Marzian said.

After listening to some discussion, Sen. Stephen Meredith, R-Leitchfield, remarked he had yet to hear an argument as to why the decision to reopen schools shouldn’t be made at the local level.

“The longer we keep kids out of school, the bigger threat we have to public education because some may never go back,” Meredith said. “They’re going to look for alternatives.”