By Dave Taylor
Hancock County Schools will be starting school on August 26 with virtual learning after a recommendation from governor Andy Beshear’s office Monday, although that recommendation was the kind that came with consequences if it wasn’t followed.
“The governor had a conference call with all superintendents on Monday and made the recommendation that we close until September 28, which obviously we have,” said Hancock County Superintendent Kyle Estes.
The district had planned to open to both in-person classes and virtual, depending on the choice of the student, but they’ve taken the in-person option off the table for now in order to avoid problems from the Kentucky Department of Education for not following the recommendation.
“What was relayed to us was that there would be consequences handed down if we did not comply with that recommendation,” Estes said. “It was a recommendation by word, but the words that followed that led one to believe something else.”
In a webcast, interim commissioner of education Kevin Brown said that the recommendation was indeed a recommendation like all the others that came before, with which every district in the state had voluntarily complied, and they hoped to ensure that everyone complied this time.
“It is a recommendation,” Brown said. “However, there are things that the state can do.”
He said that if a district decided to not follow the recommendation and instead begin in-person classes before September 28, state leadership would immediately hold a conference call with local school leaders to have them explain why.
“My goal would be to have a different outcome at the end of the conversation,” he said.
But if the school didn’t choose to comply, there were other potential consequences, which included several entities that could shut down the schools.
“The governor of course does have executive order authority,” Brown said. “…We all know that local health departments and I believe also the commissioner of public health have very broad authority to close public buildings, including school buildings, and a group of buildings, being a district, during public health emergency.”
The state board of education also has the authority to close schools, he said.
Estes said that while the district wasn’t given much choice, Hancock County was abiding by the decision and trusting that authorities were making the right call.
“I’ve got a tough job, the teachers have a tough job, the governor has a tough job, and I don’t want his job,” he said. “And he has to make decisions that he feels like are in the best interest of the commonwealth and I’m confident that he’s doing that, and I’m going to be supportive and do my part that goes along with that.”
For now that means removing the option for in-person classes and going fully remote, which will be a challenge for the school to reach students who have little to no internet at home.
“Connectivity is an issue throughout our county,” he said. “It’s an issue for my home as well.”
Prior to the shutdown of in-person classes the district had ordered more than 500 Chromebooks, which it was going to provide to any student attending virtually who didn’t have a device at home. And for those who had no internet, the school had offered the idea of hand delivering thumb drives with the material on it each day. Now all students are remote so the need just got much larger.
“It’s going to have to be a multi-pronged approach in dealing with that issue,” he said. “The thumb drives is still an option.”
Schools will be open as wifi hotspots, and they’re looking at the potential of adding other physical hotspots in the county, as well as situating wifi-enabled buses around the county.
When the announcement was made Monday, many parents went into a panic trying to figure out how to suddenly go to work while ensuring their child does his or her schoolwork, and how to pay for someone to be there to watch them every weekday when they would’ve otherwise been at school.
“We’re in a situation where we can’t supply a remedy because we’re following the recommendation that’s before us,” Estes said. “I’m one of those parents.”
“I sympathize with that. I understand that, but I don’t have an answer for that,” he said. “I wish I did.”