Legislature wades in trying to mandate in-person classes

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FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — The Kentucky House weighed in on the issue of getting children back in class amid the coronavirus pandemic, passing a bill Wednesday requiring schools to reopen in-person instruction by late March.

The requirement that in-person classes resume by March 29 was added to a larger education bill that cleared the House on an 87-8 vote. The measure now goes to the Senate.

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“I think it’s time that all students across the commonwealth have in-person instruction,” said Republican Rep. Regina Huff, the bill’s lead sponsor.

Under the bill, school districts would need to offer, at least, a hybrid schedule where students attend in-person classes at least two days a week and classes are held at least four days a week.

Up to five nontraditional instruction days would be available for districts the rest of the school year. More NTI days could be granted in areas with the most serious COVID-19 incidence rates.

Rep. Joni Jenkins, the top-ranking House Democrat, said everyone wants children back in school, but expressed concerns about lawmakers intervening in the decisions of local school boards.

“I hope this is the last time that we intercede in a duly elected local jurisdiction and tell them that, somehow, we in the state legislature know better,” she said.

Despite those misgivings, Jenkins said she was supporting the bill.

The measure also features a number of temporary, technical changes to state regulations meant to give school districts added flexibility to operate.

The bill advanced one day after Gov. Andy Beshear issued an executive order encouraging Kentucky schools to return students to in-person learning in March. Most school districts in the state have returned to some form of in-person classroom learning, the governor said.

But a handful of districts, including the state’s largest in Louisville, are still only conducting instruction online.

The executive order recommends that districts begin offering in-person learning by March 1, unless teachers and school staff still need vaccinations. In that case, the order recommends that schools offer in-person learning seven days after staff and teachers receive their final dose of COVID-19 vaccine.

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The legislation is House Bill 208.