Whitesburg KY

Jenkins schools seek OK to teach classes virtually

The Jenkins Independent Board of Education is seeking a waiver from the state in order to offer virtual instruction to its elementary school students if such a platform is needed.

At its August meeting, the Jenkins board voted unanimously to file a letter with the Kentucky Department of Education to seek a waiver that would allow the district to offer virtual instruction to the district’s kindergartenthrough fourth-grade students. By law, the district could offer a hybrid virtual and in-person instruction platform, such as that used during a portion of the 2020- 21 school year, to its students in grades five through 12 if it chose to do so.

Jenkins Superintendent Damian Johnson said he is not in favor of offering virtual instruction. He added, however, that school districts, by virtue of action by the Kentucky General Assembly, do not have the option to offer a hybrid virtual and in-person platform option for elementary students, even as school districts continue to battle the spread of the highly communicable “Delta” variant of COVID-19.

“A lot of the emergency combinations that we were giving last year no longer exist,” he said. “For example, we have no option to create a hybrid schedule. We cannot do an A-B schedule or anything like that. … We have no option for a completely virtual schedule. We can’t do that. And one of the things that, by statute, we are not being allowed to do is to have performance-based courses in kindergarten through fourth, so that eliminates a virtual option.”

The waiver for which the district is applying could pave the way for a hybrid schedule. Johnson said once the letter was submitted to KDE, that governing body could decide on whether to allow the district to offer the hybrid schedule.

“We’re in a very limited, everchanging, difficult situation,” Johnson said. “I do not particularly want to offer virtual learning because it is not the best education option we can offer students, especially in the situation we’ve seen over the past year for a student to be successful. That being said, we may need it. We may have to have it … So, this is the first step in allowing us to make that step if we need to.”

Jenkins began the 2021-22 school year on August 4. Students were in class for just four days before Johnson made the decision to shut down for nearly two weeks after the majority of the sixth and eighth grade classes at Jenkins Middle-High School were placed into quarantine after the students were exposed to COVID-19. The district reopened Monday, August 23, a schedule which allowed most of the quarantined students to be released after their apparent exposure.

Johnson has said repeatedly that he believes students should be in the classroom, especially if they are being allowed to take part in other activities where they are exposed to mixed groups of people.

“If you’re going and engaging in all that other stuff, you need to send your kids to school,” Johnson said.

Johnson said once the district receives approval from KDE to offer a hybrid schedule, it will begin formulating to plan for the platform. Johnson said during the meeting that students will be held accountable for their performance and their attendance in virtual classes if they choose to take part.

“We cannot do virtual like we did last year if we end up having to do virtual,” “The teaching will have to be virtual and in-person at the same time. If we do go virtual, the expectation will be different. If a student chooses a virtual option, they’ll be expected to tune in.”

He said it has not yet been determined whether students taking part in hybrid schedules will be locked into any such plan, and it has not been determined whether that lock in will be based upon grading period, semester or any other timeline.

“There needs to be a per grading period or per semester, once you’re locked in, that’s what you are,” Johnson said. “We’ll work through that …”

In other business at the meeting, the board set the district’s tax rates for the 2021-22 fiscal year without raising taxes. The district adopted the compensating rates, per $100 of assessed value, of 84.5 cents for real estate; 85.2 cents for personal property; 69 cents for motor vehicles, watercraft and aircraft; and 3 percent for utilities. Johnson said the rate approved for real estate is a slight reduction, while all the other rates are the same as were assessed last year.

The board also approved the purchase of a surplus police cruiser from the Jenkins Police Department. Johnson said the cruiser will be used by Jenkins’ in-district police officer, Alisha Congleton. He said Jenkins Mayor Todd Depriest helped broker the deal for the cruiser, which was offered to the district at a cost of $1.

The surplus Jenkins cruiser is in addition to another cruiser declared surplus recently by the Letcher County Fiscal Court and which the school district is expected to take ownership. Johnson said he has not yet inspected the county’s surplus cruiser.

Johnson also told the board that enrollment in the school district has increased by about 14 percent. Johnson said the district’s enrollment stood at 453 students as of its August meeting. Director of Pupil Personnel Rondall Baker told the board that figure is up from 398 students at the end of the previous school year.

Johnson also reported to the board that the last day for students for the current school year is now up to May 13 from the original closing date of May 11. By making schedule adjustments, he said the district was able to add only two days of instruction to its calendar from the nine-day closure.

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