KDE Student Advisory Council discusses upcoming school year COVID precautions

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FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ) – With the start of school less than a month away in most districts, some of the state’s top student leaders are joining parents, teachers and others in wondering what classes are going to look like, especially  with COVID variants driving up case numbers across the state.

During the state education department’s Student Advisory Council meeting on Tuesday, students raised questions about COVID precautions, how they will be enforced and how to help students adjust from last year’s virtual models to in-person learning.

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The answers still are taking shape but overall, the answers will require some difficult decisions.

Commissioner of Education Jason Glass said, “We’re going to have to continue thinking about this and managing it in ways that keep our kids, our staff and our larger communities safe going forward, so we’re going to have to be tough a little bit longer.”

Commissioner Glass noted that while districts debate things like mask mandates, other measures like social distancing, frequent cleaning and hand washing will continue to be the norm.

The students also heard about the proposed process for selecting student members to the Council during its regular meeting on July 20.

Chuck Truesdell, KDE’s director of government relations, and Meredith Brewer, KDE’s director of education policy, explained how the selection process would include SAC members.

House Bill 178, which was signed into law in April, requires that KBE’s student representative must be selected from a different congressional district each year on a rotating basis.

Since Solyana Mesfin, a senior at Eastern High School (Jefferson County) and the current KBE student representative, is from the 3rd Congressional district, the student serving during the 2022-2023 school year will live in the 4th Congressional district.

SAC members will have the role of choosing three applicants to recommend to the KBE, which will then collectively decide the final candidate. Members of the Teachers Advisory Council will use the same process to help select KBE’s teacher representative.

Truesdell explained that removing any politics from the selection process was an important point of emphasis for legislators.

“They wanted to make sure there was no political influence in that selection,” he said. “So we put together a process that removes all politics from the selection, that students will have a say in who their representative is and teachers will have a say in who their representative is.”

KBE will need to approve an administrative regulation at its next regular meeting to establish this selection process. The proposal to KBE includes a timeline for student applications to open next year by March 1 and close April 1. SAC will have a May 1 deadline to select its three recommended applicants, and KBE will formally select by vote the student member at their June meeting. The selected student representative will take their seat with KBE on July 1 in order to prepare for the role over the summer.

SAC member Anastasia Panaretos, a junior at South Oldham High School (Oldham County), and Thomas Woods-Tucker, KDE associate commissioner and chief equity officer, updated other members on their ongoing Kentucky Equity Project.

“We’ve come to understand that as we achieve equity, we know it’s not going to be accomplished by treating every student equally,” said Tucker. “It’s going to be achieved by giving every student in the Commonwealth, all 650,000-plus students, the resources they need according to their individual circumstances.”

Tucker praised last year’s SAC for the work they contributed to the project and invited the council’s newest members to contribute their stories and ideas as well.

Panaretos explained that the Kentucky Equity Project is a story-based project because “it’s not just about what you see on the outside – it’s about what you see on the inside.”

At the KBE’s June 2 regular meeting, Panaretos and several other council members presented a video they created in which students explained the importance of equity in schools and how others could work to provide a more diverse and inclusive environment within their schools.

Charleigh Browning, a junior at Marion County High School, suggested they share the video through social media channels and create social media accounts for the Kentucky Equity Project.

“If we just made a page describing what it is and what’s going to happen, I feel like there will be more people that would be willing to participate,” she said.

Solyana Mesfin, a senior at Eastern High School (Jefferson County), suggested establishing a way for students to provide feedback to their schools on professional development programs their teachers and administrators participate in.

“They go through these just to better suit their students and to better serve them,” she said. “So, if teachers and administrators were to ask, ‘How can I better help you?’ or ‘How can I better include you in my classroom?’ as part of their professional development, then that can really increase the inclusion factor.”

The Kentucky Equity Project is an ongoing project that aims to address equity, diversity and inclusivity in schools and their communities.

The Commissioner’s Student Advisory Council will hold its next meeting on August 24.