K-12 News

Long-term impact of pandemic on learning is uncertain

As the state faces exponential growth in COVID-19 cases, Gov. Andy Beshear ordered all public and private schools to close for three weeks starting Nov. 23 and switch to virtual instruction.

Exponential growth means that the number of new cases starts doubling at regular intervals. Over time, it results in a dramatic increase in cases. (Kentucky reached 42,519 cases on Aug. 23., 170 days after the first case was reported on March 6. However, the Aug. 23 number doubled 48 days later, to 80,292 by Oct. 10. That number doubled 44 days later, to 160, 232 on Nov. 23.)

Many school districts that closed in March had reopened this fall. In an interview on the Nov. 20 episode of KET’s Connections, Kentucky Education Commissioner Jason Glass said there’s been no widespread school-based transmission of the virus.

“Schools in Kentucky should be commended for the job that they’ve done, putting in layers of these mitigation strategies and defenses to keep virus out, or if the virus comes into a school that it is contained and limited,” he said.

As community transmission escalated in October and November, Glass said it became harder for schools to remain open as more students, teachers, and staff went into quarantine over exposure to someone with COVID-19. The week of Nov. 16-20 alone, more than 7,800 students and staff from schools statewide were in quarantine.

“That’s causing a lot of our smaller, rural districts to have to shut down operations. Just the disruption makes it impossible for school as we knew it to continue,” he said.

Remote learning comes at a cost, though, according to Glass. Some 24,000 students face homelessness or housing instability and may not have regular access to the internet. Glass said the pandemic has disrupted special services for students with disabilities, like speech therapy or counseling. The state schools for the deaf and the blind have been closed to in-person learning since this spring.

When possible, schools have delivered services via the internet or in person through small group and individual sessions. When the services required by a student’s IEP, or Individualized Education Plan, cannot be delivered at all, the school must provide compensatory services at a later date, Glass said.

“What I think we can expect is all of the challenges, the inequities between different groups of students who have special needs, who are homeless, who are economically disadvantaged, who have a disability, all of those inequities are going to be worse because of what we’re experiencing right now,” he said.

Glass says Kentucky is well positioned on technology infrastructure compared to other states thanks to decades of investments. Schools, local governments, businesses, and other groups have stepped up to provide devices to students and greater internet access. But Glass fears even those efforts won’t reach every Kentucky student.

“Make no mistake, we’ve got thousands of kids that we’re losing track of and we really won’t know the impact of that until later,” he says.

Watch the complete interview with Commissioner Glass, including his comments on school funding and the new equity officer: