As Kentucky’s students learned remotely during the past school year, their participation in classroom lessons roughly matched previous years’ in-person attendance rates, state education officials told lawmakers in Frankfort on Tuesday.

A Kentucky Department of Education review of 29 randomly selected school districts showed that nearly 80% of students regularly logged on for online lessons during the pandemic, while 11% completed coursework through pen-and-paper assignments.

Made possible by passage of Senate Bill 177 in March 2020 just as the pandemic began to escalate, schools were allowed on a temporary basis to measure student engagement through participation, rather than in-person attendance – a key metric that helps determine a school’s funding.

Schools were allowed to count one-on-one video engagement, attendance in group video meetings, student logins to educational software and student submission of pen-and-paper assignments, the Kentucky Department of Education said.

Speaking to the state Senate’s Interim Joint Committee on Education, which held its first interim meeting of the year on Tuesday, several school district representatives shared lessons they learned from their experience offering remote learning to students.

During the hearing, Rep. Steve Riley, R-Glasgow, said he had concerns about the erosion of students’ social skills and that, in spite of an increased interest in homeschooling, that all parents might not be equipped to do it well.

“There are many home-school parents that do a really good job,” Riley said. “We are finding, more and more, parents are going to homeschool now that are not capable of doing it in a really strong way, and I think we’re going to see some problems with that.”

Between hundreds of home visits to in-person sessions with small groups of students in need of extra help, the district representatives told lawmakers they did all they could to ensure learning continued, while also acknowledging that not all students did well with learning remotely.

“We realized early on that families were fighting just like we were,” Adair County Schools Director of Pupil Personnel Robbie Harmon told the committee, according to a Kentucky Department of Education news release.

Asked whether their districts would continue to offer virtual learning in the fall, and what that might look like, Shelby County Public Schools Superintendent Sally Sugg said her district’s virtual option will be a district-level online academy that also offers in-person meetings with teachers. Previously, the program was more decentralized and managed by individual schools and teachers in her district, Sugg said.

School districts might be incentivized to continue offering flexible course formats because of increased participation in homeschool. Shelby County Schools, for example, has already mailed letters to the families of 400 homeschool students, hoping to entice some of them to come back.

Additionally, when they were asked whether their school districts would require COVID-19 vaccine for returning public school students, the school officials seemed tepid. They agreed that mandating the vaccine for those 12 years old and older “would be controversial,” according to the KDE release. School districts have instead encouraged vaccination, the release said.

– Follow education reporter Aaron Mudd on Twitter @NewsByAaron or visit bgdailynews.com.

– Follow education reporter Aaron Mudd on Twitter @NewsByAaron or visit bgdailynews.com.

Education reporter. Covers education and related issues, focusing primarily on the Bowling Green and Warren County public school districts and Western Kentucky University.