FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — The Kentucky Senate voted Wednesday to require schools to reopen in-person instruction by late March, leaving the bill potentially one step away from being sent to the governor.
The Republican-led Senate weighed in on the hot-button issue of getting children back in class amid the coronavirus pandemic, voting 28-8 to pass the measure.
The bill would require that in-person classes resume by March 29.
It now returns to the House, which will consider changes made by the Senate. If the GOP-dominated House accepts those change, it could send the legislation to Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear.
Under the bill, school districts would need to offer, at least, a hybrid schedule where students attend in-person classes at least two days a week and classes are held at least four days a week. Districts would still offer virtual learning for children when their parents request it due to the pandemic.
During the Senate debate Wednesday, lawmakers acknowledged pressure from some parents wanting schools to return to classes five days a week.
“To those who are upset with us because this bill doesn't say five days a week, take it up with your school board," said Republican Sen. Chris McDaniel. "Because they can do that tomorrow.”
Democratic Sen. Reginald Thomas opposed the bill, saying it would weaken local decision-making in school districts. He also warned that COVID-19 remains a threat.
“This effort by us to rush our kids back to school in those districts that don't feel good about it, it is not a wise decision,” he said. “The school board is the best authority ... to make that determination.”
The measure also features a number of temporary, technical changes to state regulations meant to give school districts added flexibility to operate amid the pandemic.
Beshear recently issued an executive order encouraging Kentucky schools to return students to in-person learning in March. The executive order recommended that districts begin offering in-person learning by March 1, unless teachers and school staff still need vaccinations. In that case, the order recommends that schools offer in-person learning seven days after staff and teachers receive their final dose of COVID-19 vaccine.
The legislation is House Bill 208.