School officials discuss new normal as students say virtual learning is less meaningful and manageable

On Tuesday, school superintendents, students, a parent, and other education groups all discussed the new reality facing Kentucky education in fall 2020 with recommendations from the governor for students to return virtually until September 28.

According to results from a survey of 9,475 students from 573 schools across Kentucky conducted by the Student Voice Team of The Prichard Committee, the overwhelming majority of students said they “experienced a decrease in manageability and meaningfulness” when schools moved to virtual learning in the spring of 2020.

Presenting in front of lawmakers Tuesday, the Student Voice Team pointed to results showing 65 percent of students who reported their teacher communicated with them less than one time per week reported a decrease in motivation.

Students across the state also expressed many struggles surrounding their education and home environments, including feeling a lot of the assignments given to them are “busy work” rather than meaningful content, feeling they aren’t able to have a dialogue with their teachers, increased responsibilities at home, a struggle to balance school and home life, struggles with mental health, and more.

Rep. Steve Riley raised another issue with distance learning, saying how many of the students and teachers are meeting an interacting for the first time virtually, arguing that it makes a meaningful education experience even more difficult when you’ve never met your teacher in person.

Some superintendents testified Tuesday that they felt confident in hybrid learning plans they developed over the summer at the local level. But after the Governor’s announcement, an ensuing letter from the Kentucky Department of Education went out to all teachers the next day expressing the department’s concerns with reopening schools in-person before September 28, it was clear the administration did not share the same confidence.

Another issue facing school districts as they struggle with this new reality is legal liability. Kentucky School Board Association Director of Advocacy Eric Kennedy noted the work being done by local school boards to mitigate health risks and provide quality education while also balancing the legal liabilities facing the districts when and if they reopen. Kennedy noted that it is very important for state officials to be extremely clear about what is a mandate and what is a recommendation because without the differentiation, everyone in the district is put at risk.

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