Governor signs bill to get kids back in school

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Rep. Regina Huff, R-Williamsburg, presenting the final version of House Bill 208, which aims to reopen all public schools to in-person learning by March 29.

FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ) – Within minutes of it hitting his desk, Gov. Andy Beshear signed a bill passed by the Kentucky General Assembly to get every public school back to in-person instruction in some capacity by March 29.

It’s been nearly a year since schools were shut down to in-person learning due to the pandemic. Since then, many districts have reopened to in-person instruction but not all.

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“This allows them to return. It allows those students to have face-to-face contact with teachers for the first time since March of last year and that is a priority and of importance to me,” the bill’s primary sponsor Rep. Regina Huff, R-Williamsburg, said on the House floor.

Under HB 208, public schools will have to be open for in-person instruction at least four days a week for the remainder of the 2020-21 academic year.

Schools would have the option to operate under a hybrid model where students spend part of the week attending in-person classes and the rest from home. HB 208 requires schools to allow a student to attend in-person classes at least twice a week under the hybrid model.

This bill also limits the remaining amount of nontraditional instruction (NTI) days school districts are allowed to use.

Under HB 208, school districts will only be allotted five NTI days to use for the remainder of the school year. If a school district needs to close to in-person learning for more than five days, that district will be required to add “make-up” days to its academic calendar.

Schools that wish to use NTI days during the 2021-22 academic year will need to submit their plan to the state education department by May 1.

“I think this is a great compromise,” Huff said. “It allows (school) boards to make these decisions….”

Bill co-sponsor Rep. Tina Bojanowski, D-Louisville, took time on the House floor to clarify and defend her district’s delay in reopening and ask her colleagues to vote in favor of HB 208.

“With that, I urge my colleagues in both chambers to refrain from making attacks against this district without first finding out the facts,” Bojanowski said. “… Members I encourage you to vote yes for House Bill 208.”

While Rep. Jerry T. Miller, R-Eastwood, said he would vote to approve HB 208, he would have liked to have seen the bill be a little different.

“I’ll just say my elementary-aged granddaughter is extremely upset she is not going to get back to school five days a week,” Miller added. “… At this point I’m just happy to have her back in session.”

The House approved HB 208 by a 85-15 vote Thursday after concurring on changes made to the bill by the Senate earlier in the week. The Senate approved the bill by a 28-8 vote on Wednesday.

HB 208 also included an emergency clause, meaning it would become effective immediately upon becoming law rather than 90 days after adjournment of the legislature.