By Jeff Neagle
In February, the Russell County Board of Education set the calendar for the 2020-2021 school year with an opening day for students of August 18.
Then COVID-19 happened. Students were sent home for the last two months of school, spring sports were cancelled, prom was cancelled, and the graduation ceremony was altered for social distancing requirements.
Uncertainty over the start of next year has been a frequent topic for discussion among state and local school officials. There is still not a full plan in place as the Department of Public Health works to refine guidelines for schools. But one item has been decided – for now.
On Monday night, the school board decided on a new opening day for the start of next school year. Students’ first day of school was set for August 26.
“There’s been the option for a couple of years now for what is called the variable student instructional year,” stated Superintendent Michael Ford. “School districts are still bound by the 1,062 hours if we start on the Monday closest to August 26, but they are not bound by the 170 instructional days. With the pandemic and uncertainty surrounding the 2020-2021 school year, I recommend the Russell County Board of Education amend the previously approved school year calendar and implement the variable student instruction year.”
KRS 158.070 is the statute that school districts refer to when developing the school calendar. The variable student instructional year allows the school system some flexibility in instructional days. Normally, 170 days is the norm for a regular school calendar, but with the variable calendar the school district will provide 164 instructional days while still meeting the 1,062 hours required.
“It still meets all the compliance of all the statutes and regs as the previously approved calendar, it just gives us a little more flexibility. I hope we start back in August and we have a great, normal school year, but the reality is that it’s likely we won’t have as normal a school year as we’d like. But this will give us the flexibility and allow us to start just a little bit later,” said Ford.
The question still remains as to how schools will operate for the coming year. Ford elaborated, “The governor mentioned there are some things that will be requirements and then there will be some things that will be highly recommended. He said the more recommendations that we implement, the safer our students and faculty are.”
Ford said that at this time, the district has not developed a reentry plan. “At this time, we are working on ideas and how we can implement this but as far as putting it all on paper and saying ‘this is what we’re going to do,’ we have not done that yet because we are still waiting for this next piece of guidance from the Kentucky Department of Public Health that is supposed to be specific to schools.”
Ford said the district must know the requirements before the board can firm up a plan as to what things will look like going forward. He went on to say that it will be done by a group that will include central office administrators, principals, teachers from site-based councils, and classified staff so that there is input from a wide range of stakeholders.
The board also heard from Sheriff Derek Polston about the two new school resource officers as reported last week in the Lake Cumberland Current.
“I appreciate everything that you all [school officials] did to help us obtain this grant, the fiscal court, Susan Melton for all the hard work she put into this. When I ran for sheriff, it was one of my main objectives to get school resource officers and I hope we can get one for Jamestown before the federal government does away with [the grant].”
Mr. Ford said he had been asked by some people why Russell Springs Elementary and Salem Elementary were chosen to receive officers over Jamestown Elementary.
In response, Sheriff Polston said, “One of the main reasons is that Salem, especially, being so far out of the city limits of either Russell Springs or Jamestown. That being the farthest school away it takes us so long to respond to an emergency type situation at that school so I felt like that school in particular would the first school for a resources officer if we only got one. I felt Russell Springs should be next since it’s still out of the limits of Russell Springs. Even though it’s up 127, it takes a few minutes for me to get there, so those two schools in particular were on my main priority list first.”
Polston went to on to add that Jamestown Elementary is in the city limits of Jamestown and the Jamestown Police Department and Russell County Sheriff’s Department are “all right there beside it. Like I said, when we apply for the next round of grants, we’ll apply also for Jamestown to have one as well, that way all the schools will be covered, especially with school resource officers. One of our primary focuses is protecting children, grandchildren and the staff of Russell County school system.”
Superintendent Ford concurred with Polston. “I agree with that reasoning as well. Thank you for everything you have done, and I’ll acknowledge Mrs. [Susan] Melton, too, when it comes to that grant writing to get that. Again, to have two additional school resource officers for schools in these lean financial times is just a win-win for everybody so thank you and your department, Sheriff.”
Polston stated that some people had expressed interest in the jobs, but that there are stipulations of the grant as to the requirements of who can be hired. The candidates must have a minimum of two years of experience as a successful law enforcement officer, be at least 21 years of age, have either a college degree or several hours of course work. Veterans will receive first preference as that was part of the grant stipulation as well.
Board member Gerald Murray stated, “We all appreciate what he’s doing and realize the choices he’s put in because the response time is so much greater. I’m like him and hope we can get one for Jamestown, but Jamestown is pretty well surrounded, we’re pretty safe, but you can’t be too safe. I think Derek is like the rest of us, we’re here for the kids. They are our priority and whatever we can do is a plus.”