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Higdon: Interim committees focusing on preparing for 2021 General Assembly

By JIMMY HIGDON
14th District State Senator

Friday, Sept. 18, 2020 — The education community received good news this past week. The recommendation for students not to return to in-person learning will not be extended beyond September 28. Thus our school districts will now have more assurance in putting their reopening plans into action.

SEN. JIMMY HIGDON

In recent columns I have written, I complimented our school districts’ great work here in our 14th district. Each plan was thorough, considerate of the wishes of each family, and made students’ education and health their top priority. I am glad to know that our schools can feel freer to provide our kids with the best educational experience possible.

In the weeks ahead, attention will remain on the concerns of our ongoing health pandemic. Finally, a more targeted approach will be applied so long as the state COVID-19 positivity rate remains below six-percent. This is good news.

For months many members of the Kentucky General Assembly have requested a more targeted approach to fighting this invisible enemy. It has long been clear that a one-size-fits-all approach is not the only option. Unfortunately, there have been unintended consequences, including but not limited to record levels of unemployment, the permanent closure of small businesses, and students falling behind in their education. Throughout the State of Emergency, the legislature has strived daily to be a voice for the thousands of constituents who are reaching out for help.

While the legislature has no official authority until Jan. 5, 2021, we have dedicated the entirety of our 2020 Interim Session to preparing for the upcoming session. Considerable thought is being given on what actions may be necessary at that time. We have also focused our efforts over the last few weeks to provide a platform for the many concerns we continue to hear from our constituents. I am grateful to Senate Majority Leadership. These efforts have achieved tangible results, such as last week’s announcement of school reopenings.

After the school year was cut short by COVID-19 back in April, our hard-working school personnel began to consider how to get our kids safely back in class for the next school year. However, they needed guidelines from the state to develop those plans. Local school leaders were contacting us with concerns that they had no guidance to move forward. That’s why on June 18, Senate Leadership issued a letter to the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) expressing frustrations about the lack of tangible standards and directives being offered to Kentucky school districts. This was important to us as the representative branch of state government. We raised questions then so that we could return kids safely to school this fall.

In response to our letter, the KDE replied in a letter, “Kentucky’s autonomous school districts have the authority under local control provisions to meet students and their families’ needs.” This response was well-received, and eventually, “Healthy at School” guidelines were provided to our schools. They leaped into action and, as stated, developed robust plans to get kids back in school safely. However, that position was eventually replaced with a “recommendation” that schools do not reopen until September 28. The General Assembly felt strongly that school districts deserved to know that state government supported whatever decision they made. That is why we wrote Op-Eds and made public committee meeting requests for the administration to speak in support whether they chose to return to in-person learning or virtual learning.

Dozens of school districts across the state have reopened over the past month to overall great success. The recent update on school reopenings finally provided other school districts with the support they have longed to hear for weeks. I want to commend Senate Majority Leadership for these efforts, and I am grateful their requests were heard.

Of course, school reopenings have not been the only issue legislators have strived for improvements on. The Kentucky High School Athletic Association obliged Senate Majority Leadership requests to allow local districts to move forward with fall sports. The Governor and KDE chose not to override that decision, much to the relief of student-athletes and their families. At an August 25 press conference, Senate Leadership requested that restrictions negatively impacting child care centers be eased. Outlined were the unintended pitfalls capacity limitations have brought. The same is true for businesses across Kentucky, such as restaurants and bars. Announced following the Senate’s request regarding sports was an increase in childcare center capacity limits. Last week it was announced that the curfew on restaurants and bars would be extended to 11 p.m. This is all much-needed progress. We have spent months advocating on behalf of the constituents who have called and emailed their concerns. I applaud that concessions are being made.

I want to wish our local schools the very best in their return to in-person learning. I trust their ability to protect our kids and provide them the high-quality educational experience they deserve. I also trust parents to make the best decision for their children and families.

There is one other issue I want to touch on before I leave you. There are various programs that often require forms to be completed electronically, such as rental assistance as a more recent example. I know there are some within our district who may not have access to reliable high-speed internet. If this is the case for you, I encourage you to reach out to your local library. I have spoken with libraries in our district recently and they have indicated they would be happy to help anyone who may be in need of their assistance. I want to thank them for being a resource in our communities.

In closing, I know many of you are still facing challenges related to unemployment and understandable fears of the ongoing pandemic. I would love to hear from you and be of any help that I can. Please reach out to me by phone at 270-692-6945 or by email to jimmy.higdon@lrc.ky.gov if I can be of assistance. As always, thank you to news websites and radio stations in the 14th Senate District. Please take the time visit their websites and to tune in to your local news sources. It is where trusted news originates.

Stay safe, and God bless.

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