Statement by Dr. Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates
LOUISVILLE, KY – The easy path as we approach this special session is to devolve to conventional thinking – that the pandemic and Kentucky’s recovery efforts are too polarizing and too complex for thoughtful and direct solutions. Yet, we attest a hope that the special session can be a landmark moment when the General Assembly and the Governor come together for the common good as our Commonwealth takes the next steps for an expansive and equitable pandemic recovery for all Kentucky kids and their families.
And it is clear that no group of Kentuckians merits and needs decisive action more than our young people. That premise has been exacerbated as the COVID-19 Delta variant is sweeping through Kentucky’s youngest citizens.
The following items are among the priorities for kids the Governor and General Assembly must consider within a plan of action during this special session:
- Build a rubric for masking in schools. That does not mitigate the importance of local control, but it does suggest that available evidence should guide what options are on the table. We can all agree that the rules at play in a red-zone school in which kids are of the age not yet vaccinated should look very different than in a green-zone school. Educators can welcome that balance of guidance and autonomy.
- Consider the emerging best practices to keep students healthy and learning – such as “Test and Stay.” Local districts can shape their own COVID-19 testing programs, while also being incentivized to explore innovative efforts that allow students who are known to be exposed to the virus at school to remain in the classroom, as long as daily testing and safety protocols are met.
- Understand that non-traditional instruction cannot replace in-person schooling but is a vital necessity in moving ahead. When considering the next iteration of NTI, there should be flexibility around the parameters when it comes to days used. Local districts and schools can remain the decisionmakers while quality assurance is also guaranteed for every student’s success. Learning gaps cannot be student realities for yet another year. Additionally, addressing the digital divide must remain top of mind – whether during the special session or into the 2022 session. The General Assembly has smartly made investments in improving internet access, and it must remain an infrastructure priority as it is as vital to local economies as it is to student learning.
- Ensure that the K-12 accountability and assessment system carries the context of another unusual school year. As the 2021-22 school year progresses, there must be an emphasis on assessment to chart individual student progress and an accountability formula designed to help schools adapt – and not as a means of punishment.
- Utilize existing tools to assess student emotional and behavioral health. Many districts, especially in the Northern Kentucky region, are already successfully implementing these tools as they implement trauma-informed practices. We need to incentivize the commitment schools have demonstrated in their Trauma-Informed Plans by ensuring they become reality. One way is to draw down federal match dollars to strengthen health and behavioral health services in schools, especially as many students need extra support on the heels of isolation and other challenges during the pandemic.
- Make quarantines and shutdowns school-based and not district-based. Simply put, superintendents working with local health officials should have the authority to modify operations based upon conditions at individual schools and not be forced to make “all in and all out” decisions for the district at large.
- Create a transparent and consistently updated dashboard around pandemic data on a school-by-school basis. Every parent in every school deserves to know what is happening – and what is not happening – in their children’s school. The General Assembly, working with school leaders and public health officials, can require this critically important data transparency through an allocation of funds to local districts.
- Strengthen child welfare system operations so our most vulnerable don’t fall through the cracks. The pandemic exposed fissures in the child welfare system’s capacity to operate within a public health crisis. Whether it is moving children to permanency or protecting children from abuse and neglect, the child welfare system must be just as agile and flexible as we expect schools to be. The strong collaboration between the Beshear Administration and General Assembly must continue momentum to ensure our most vulnerable children aren’t carrying the brunt of the pandemic’s impact.
- Utilize every available dollar to support Kentucky’s struggling child care sector. We all understand the core importance of child care – for kids, their families, and our local economies. We can best support our child care centers and families by prioritizing the retention and recruitment of employees and relieving parents of child care co-pays. Given the necessity of child care for a thriving business climate and the economic pressures many families face, these supports can take big hurdles off the table.
These responses are feasible, fiscally responsible, and will produce a ROI for kids, families, and local communities. They offer a glimpse into the potential for the bipartisan and proven ways we can – and we must – think about kids and families in our Commonwealth’s pandemic recovery efforts.
About Kentucky Youth Advocates
Kentucky Youth Advocates believes all children deserve to be safe, healthy, and secure. As THE independent voice for Kentucky’s children, we work to ensure policymakers create investments and policies that are good for children. Learn more at www.kyyouth.org.