Senate Bill 1 passes senate committee

FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ) – One of the bills being considered during the special session, involves a school mask mandate. It’s expected to be one of the more contentious issues during the session. Senate Bill 1 passed a senate committee Tuesday. It rejects the Beshear administration’s mask mandate in schools and daycares.

“Every other time that we’ve had a surge, we’ve been able to use masking,” says Governor Andy Beshear during his Tuesday afternoon briefing. “We’ve been able to require it not just in schools but in indoors when you’re outside of the home. Without that, we are not going to do as well this time.”

The bill did not pass the committee unanimously. It passed with an 8-5 vote. Opponents say it is irresponsible to remove the mandate with COVID-19 continuing to spread and forcing schools to close.

State education commissioner Jason Glass says removing the mask mandate flies in the face of virus mitigation efforts at a time when they’re needed most. Democratic Senator Reggie Thomas, of Lexington, says since every Kentucky county is in the red, masks should be mandated statewide and not be left up to local decisions.

“As Kentucky legislators, we don’t vote just for our individual districts, we vote for what we think is best for Kentuckians,” says Thomas. “And as this virus can go all over Kentucky, our duty, our moral responsibility, is to try to protect all Kentuckians. The best way we can do that in this instance is to put- impose mandates, protections that apply to all Kentuckians.”

Bill supporters say it would allow districts to make decisions that work best for their schools.

“We put the faith and the trust in our school boards. We put faith and trust in superintendents,” says Republican Senator Max Wise, of Campbellsville. “They know their county best. And I have full faith, I do, that they’re going to make the right decisions and I think that flexibility that we’ve built into this is what they’re asking for. They want relief in so many of these different aspects and we’ve got to trust that.”

The bill now goes to the full senate and the House Education Committee is set to meet Wednesday. If the bill ultimately passes, it would void the Kentucky Board of Education’s mask mandate.

Senate Bill 1 deals with more than just the school mask mandate. It also addresses remote learning and non-traditional learning or NTI days, and there is a difference between the two.

Remote learning allows schools to target the groups exposed instead of closing the entire district. This means if just one grade level is exposed or one specific school in the district, local school boards would be able to allow just the exposed learn remotely for up to 20 days instead of having the entire district learn from home.

“We want to give school districts that local control and local plan that they can focus on this from a grade, a classroom, or a particular school building,” says Wise. “And once again the hope is, with the changing nature of the quarantine protocols that this could also help alleviate those number of student absences.”

Other notable sections in the bill include converting school years to be a cumulative total of 1,062 hours instead of 170 days. This change will allow local districts to make-up lost instructional time through adding minutes or hours to a school day, instead of having to add a full instructional day to the calendar.

Senate Bill 1 would also give local school boards permission to incentivize vaccines for middle and high school students, as well as detailing a staffing solution that would bring retired teachers back by allowing them to keep their retirement and still get paid for teaching.

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