We Are Sad; No More In-Person School in Kentucky

Emilie McKiernan Blanton

We will no longer have in-person school in Kentucky. We will continue Non-Traditional Instruction for the remainder of the year. While we know this is is the right call, we are still sad.

Teachers have a reputation for loving snow days and breaks. The thrill of a random Tuesday off because Mother Nature decided to blanket our streets in snow is nothing like this. Snow days end. Breaks help our students and teachers recharge before continuing learning. We know when they are and how long they last. We can get Blessings in a Backpack sent home. The majority of students in JCPS qualify for free or reduced lunch. The worry about where and how they will be fed is very real.

This is immensely different. No one becomes a teacher because they hate work. No one becomes a teacher because they hate children. We love our profession. We love our kids. We miss them desperately. We find ourselves thinking about them and the things they’d say. We miss the end of year activities. We miss watching our students ending their careers with us; the fifth graders, the eight graders, and the seniors who will move on without the appropriate goodbyes.

We are still adjusting to an NTI-based life. We will continue to reach out to students and families in the months to come. With NTI comes an entirely new set of hurdles as we try to do our best to help our students and ease their anxiety and stress.

These are unprecedented times. We know that we have to adjust our lives and our profession. That doesn’t mean that we don’t get to grieve what we and our students have lost. We know this is the right call, but we also know the sadness that we feel is real and valid.

In the months to come after this, may we as a commonwealth reassess what education needs to look like. Learning is not measured in standardized assessments or specified seat minutes. When the time came to completely turn our profession upside down, teachers across the nation rallied to provide some level of normalcy to our students. None of the remote learning will ever replace the very real relationships formed in the classroom. None of the remote learning can replace the climate and culture that exists in a school building, from sports and dances to clubs and painted wall murals, school is more than a series of activities designed to measure academic growth. School is a home and a family. For countless students across Kentucky, and across America, school is safety. May we remember these lessons as we create a new normal in a post-Coronavirus world.

But for now, we can be sad. We just miss our kids.

COVID-19 Education Employee Call to Action

As school districts across the state are working to continue learning opportunities and instruction for Kentucky’s students, it is important for them to be able to support and maintain their staff.

Please call the Legislative Hotline at 1-800-372-7181 and leave this message for all legislators:  

As your constituent and a concerned citizen of Kentucky, I am asking you to please remove current limits on emergency leave for education employees and give school districts the flexibility they need to address the Coronavirus crisis they are facing.  
Thank you!

Support HB340: A Salary Supplement for Qualified Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists

Katie Cohen

What is HB 340?

House Bill 340 will require local boards of education to provide an annual salary supplement to qualified Speech-Language Pathologists or Audiologists. The bill is bipartisan; sponsored by Representatives R. Huff, P. Pratt, and D. Schamore. So far this session, this bill has had 3 readings in the House and passed 95-0. The Senate received the bill on 2/12/2020. 

Why provide a salary supplement to SLPs and AUDs?

Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists based in schools are vital to improving the public education of students with communication impairments from early childhood through graduation. 

SLPs and AUDs are highly qualified professionals that should be recognized as such. They have the option to hold a Certificate of Clinical Competence aka “the triple C’s”, through the American Speech- Language-Hearing Association (ASHA). To earn their C’s, Speech- Language Pathologists and Audiologists must earn a Master’s degree from an accredited university, perform 1600 hours of supervised clinical experience, pass a nationally recognized exam, and earn 30 continuing education hours every 3 years. 

The Certificate of Clinical Competence for Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists is similar, but not synonymous with the National Board Certification for Teachers. CCC and NBCT programs both encourage professional excellence. 

Have we seen this bill before?

Yes, during the 2010 KY legislative session, a bill was passed and subsequently signed into law by Governor S. Beshear known as the “Salary Supplement Bill”, HB 376. It states that school-based Speech- Language Pathologists and Audiologists possessing a Certificate of Clinical Competence from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) may be given a salary stipend, equivalent to that which teachers earning National Board Certification receive, in the value of $2,000. The wording of the bill “permits” local school boards to pay a salary supplement, however, it does not allocate any funds nor require them to do so. 

The Kentucky Speech-Language-Hearing Association (KSHA), KSHA’s Advocacy Network (iKAN), lobbyists, Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists across the state have continued to advocate for the salary supplement. In the 2019 legislative session, the salary supplement legislation, HB 168, received three readings in the House and on 03/06/19 passed 98-0. It was then sent to the Senate Education committee and died there. 

Is this specific to KY?

Currently, five states provide a range of salary supplements to school- based Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists who hold a Certificate of Clinical Competence. And three additional states provide a salary supplement only for SLPs. 

Salary supplements incentivize the best SLPs and AUDs to continue working in the public schools rather than leave for a role in the medical field where he or she could potentially earn double the pay. Salary supplements also encourage our best communication specialists to continue residing in the state of KY rather than moving to a state where he or she could receive higher pay. 

Support school-based Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists. Support HB 340. 

You can call the LRC Message Line at 1-800-372-7181 to leave a message for your Senator or ALL Senators asking them to SUPPORT HB340.

Scholarship Tax Credits will not help us

Emilie McKiernan Blanton

Seventy three. That’s how many counties in Kentucky don’t have a private school. Do you know who has the most private schools? The Golden Triangle. You can drive along the southern border from Todd County all the way to Letcher County and not hit a single county with a private school. One of those seventy three counties without a private school is Martin County. Martin still does not have drinking water. HB350 would take money from the general fund and give it to the Golden Triangle, neglecting our rural counties and taking away funding our commonwealth needs to provide government services.

The entire premise of Scholarship Tax Credits, or Backdoor Vouchers, is that it offers families a choice. But is that true? In JCPS, we have students who are homeless. Who is completing the appropriate application and tax information for them? According to the JCPS Data Book, there are over five thousand students in the district who are homeless. That’s just the ones we know about. How is this tax credit going to help them? 

The abject poverty of homelessness is not the only financial barrier. Parents who are working two and three jobs and still living in poverty rarely have the time or the ability to access all the information necessary to fulfill the application requirements. If a parent is unable to fill out the information, how is the student meant to access this “opportunity” for education? According to the JCPS Data Book, over sixty percent of our students qualify for free or reduced lunch. Due to the magnitude, JCPS implemented entire schools as free lunch and breakfast several years ago. If those students find a way to apply, what will they eat? Are these private institutions prepared to offer students free breakfast and lunch in addition to these scholarships? For some of my students, the majority of their meals are from JCPS. For our neediest, their only meals are from JCPS.

How are they even going to get to the school in the first place? There is a lot of conflict surrounding the idea of bussing in JCPS, but the fact is that families rely on the bussing to get their child to school even if they live near their school. The entirety of bussing isn’t just bussing children from the West End to the East. Bussing in JCPS also includes families with no or limited transportation, students who have been accepted into selective programs, and students being bussed to a school in their own neighborhood. Will this tax credit include transportation provided by the school?

We have over 12,000 students who are identified as English as a Second Language or English Language Learners, are the schools who would benefit from this proposed tax credit going to have services to reach them? How many Bilingual Assistant Interpreters will be available at these schools? Do they have an interpreter for Kinyarawanda? That’s the fifth most spoken language in my school, behind English, Spanish, Arabic, and Swahili. What programs do they have in place for Students with Interrupted Formal Education (SIFE)? Students from war-torn countries often have gaps in education that require special instruction and consideration. 

The JCPS Board of Education is currently looking at a proposal to end exiting in our selective schools. Even when exited from a selective school, students in JCPS are never expelled from our school system. Every child in our commonwealth has a right to an education. If these private institutions want to have tax dollars to provide education, does that mean that they will no longer kick students out of their school systems? Can a child have a rainbow cake for her birthday without being accused of committing “lifestyle offenses” that result in expulsion? How can we be sure that these students aren’t being kicked out purely because these private entities cannot meet the needs of the student?

We have very real concerns in Kentucky. The proposed legislation would take fifty million dollars of our biennium budget and put it into private schools that don’t have the rules, regulation, oversight, and transparency required of public schools. Eastern Kentucky was submerged under water and has been neglected for decades. We have had a series of miners deprived of pay. We have thousands of homeless children all across the state. We have an ongoing opioid crisis. We don’t have one cent that we don’t already need. If we have this money to invest in education, it needs to go to public education where we love and teach every child that comes to us no matter what. It’s clear that these credits aren’t intended to help our most needy. They’re designed to provide a coupon for families who already attend these schools.

In Defense of Open Doors

If one were to give an account of all the doors one has closed and opened, of all the doors one would like to re-open, one would have to tell the story of one’s entire life.” – Gaston Bachelard

Ryan Davis

There is a hallway that changed how I view teaching.  I mean that quite literally. The hallway is not a metaphor.  It is physical space with polished tiles and faded lockers and old paint.  The thing about space is that while we are constantly shaping it to function in accordance with our purposes and values, our spaces are constantly shaping us.   It is an infinite waltz with no clear lead or follow.  

This dance between our architecture and our way of being was made real to me by a hallway full of English teachers.  I am math teacher, but this was before the time that I really knew that what we do is not as much about subjects as it is about students.

One distinctive feature of this hallway was that its doors were almost always open.  And so through the hallway like a spine ran the verve and hum of life, even when it held no people.  The classrooms connected and alive to something bigger, the energy of each slipping out the open doorways.  A space that was more than a collection of individual rooms, but a community. 

It was a space that changed me because it so clearly changed students. The community of open doors fostered belonging and ownership that could be seen in students dipping in and out of rooms to grab a writing piece or book or just to connect for a brief second.  The architecture spoke with a welcome and invitation. It was a place made more fully theirs.  

As much as this is a love letter to hallway (or more so the people who made the hallway alive by choosing to open their doors), it is also an admonition of laws that requires teachers to keep their classroom doors closed and locked.  I know the horrific realities that motivate such laws because I know the images that I, and I’m sure most educators, too frequently find ourselves trying to push out of our heads. School safety raises serious and immediate questions.  And, our answers require a difficult self-interrogation as to whether they are actual solutions or merely responses to fear.    

Fear often disguises itself as pragmatism. It contrasts the ease of a solution with a scenario of severe risk — a closed and locked door protects us from an outside terror.  The simple resolution may be immediately comforting, but it is often incomplete. For instance, experts advocate that when possible the first and most desirable response to violence should be to flee the situation.  A closed door impedes the ability to escape quickly, even more so if the violence begins in a room with closed door. A closed and locked door could also prevent a child from entering a safe place.  

It is impossible to predict whether in a moment of mass terror one will be advantaged by being in a room where the door is opened or closed.  More importantly, such thinking remains rooted in fear and anxiety about the future that cannot help but manifest in the present.  

I don’t know with any certainty what confluence of factors conspire to turn a child toward such terrible violence.  Some have highlighted trauma and mental health. Others have identified bullying and ostracism as playing a significant role.  Then there are misogyny and white supremacy and other ideologies that normalize violence. While the influence and impact of each of these factors may vary, they share a common trait: they are only fed, and never solved, by isolation.  They are wounds that can only be identified and healed by building places of connection and belonging. They require community.   

When I picture that hallway now, with all its doors closed, I feel an immense sense of loss.  The hallway with closed doors is a shell. It feels cold. When I think of having the keep my own door closed and locked, I feel the same sense of loss, but also frustration.  Frustration that I cannot contribute to community that is edifying and empowering for my students – a bigger community that holds them up and closer, and ultimately makes them safer.

For now, fear has caused us to curl a little more inward. And, it is perhaps easy to dismiss a door as a small thing. Perhaps there are compromises to be struck like funding doors that lock from the inside so they can be kept open, but also quickly locked and closed without leaving the room.   I’m optimistic that educators can help lawmakers understand why these seemingly small things matter. The power of a community of open doors is hard to describe unless you’ve experienced it. I am grateful that I have had that chance. I worry that students today do not.  

The opening or closing of doors transforms our space which in turn begins to shape us.  While educators will always work to create community where we can, our physical space can either limit the community we make or invite us to make more.  Open doors can make a school more than a series of rooms. Open doors connect classrooms to a larger vibrancy and sense of belonging – they compound the power of community, and all the benefits that come with it.  They make the space our students deserve.  


Please CALL your legislators today and tell them to vote NO on HB 350! 1-800-372-7181

The House Appropriations and Revenue Committee is meeting right now, and the scholarship tax credit supporters are here in their yellow scarves. It’s important for us to let our legislators know that Kentucky’s public schools can’t afford to lose $25 – $50 million.


Protecting Trans Kids: Why you should be opposed to House Bill 321

Tammy Berlin

What is HB 321, and why are we talking about it?

Kentucky is one of several states that are currently considering legislation that would affect how transgender people will be able to receive healthcare.  These bills are based on wide-spread public misconceptions about what it means to be trans and what is appropriate healthcare for transgender people. Kentucky’s HB 321 is a bill that denies doctors the ability to provide gender affirmation treatment to transgender children under penalty of law.  If passed, this bill would put Kentucky’s transgender children at risk. Read on to understand why.  

What is transgender?  

There’s a biological basis for being transgender.  Gender in humans is determined by a complex set of factors, including genetics, brain development, and our endocrine systems.  Scientists are only now beginning to understand how these factors work together in determining our gender, however, it is clear that the scientific community no longer considers human gender to be a binary, but rather a continuum that encompasses a number of variations.  There’s so much more to our gender identity than our external genitalia or even our chromosomal composition.  

People who are trans have a strong sense that their personal identity and gender do not correspond with the gender they were assigned at birth.  Children as young as three can know that who they are on the inside does not match what their bodies look like on the outside. The World Health Organization classifies this condition as gender incongruence.   For some children, especially those approaching puberty and beyond, this incongruence between the child’s gender identity and their assigned gender may cause them significant discomfort and distress, known as gender dysphoria.  Gender dysphoria is a condition recognized by both the American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association. It is the condition for which trans people might seek a medical diagnosis and treatment.  

What are the health implications of gender dysphoria in children?  

Gender dysphoria poses serious health risks.  Children and adolescents who experience gender dysphoria are at increased risk for anxiety and depression, and are at high risk for self-injury and suicide.  Almost 84% of these children experience bullying related to their gender identity at school, resulting in social isolation, low self-esteem, and aversion to school.  Children with gender dysphoria are five times more likely to talk about or attempt suicide than other children.  As many as 45% of trans children engage in self-harm before the age of 20, with many of these individuals often targeting their genitals or breasts as physical reminders of the gender to which they feel they don’t belong.  

What is gender affirmation?  

Gender affirmation is the process through which a person receives support for their gender identity and expression.  The World Professional Association for Transgender Health has published standards of care to guide doctors and mental healthcare providers in reducing gender dysphoria in children.  These recommendations include allowing children to socially transition by living in their affirmed gender (changing their hairstyle, how they dress, using different pronouns, and perhaps using a different name).  Children approaching puberty may decide along with their parents and doctors to receive hormone blockers that will temporarily halt the development of physical characteristics that may be distressing for gender dysphoric youth.  The effects of these drugs are reversible, and puberty will resume when they are discontinued. Around age 16, older transgendered children may be eligible to receive hormone therapy, either estrogen or testosterone, that will help their bodies develop the characteristics that match their gender identity.  Children are not eligible for surgical transition. Gender reassignment surgery is only available to adults over the age of 18, and who have passed an intensive screening process.  

Why should we continue to allow doctors to provide gender-affirmation treatments to Kentucky’s trans children?  

Allowing trans children to affirm their gender is life-saving.  Receiving gender affirmation treatment significantly reduces the rate of suicidal ideations and self-harm in transgender children.  Gender affirmation is the course of treatment recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics for gender incongruence.  Medical treatments like hormones and puberty blockers can only be administered after a thorough discussion of the risks and benefits.  The decision for when and how to assist a transgender child to transition to their affirmed gender is a decision that is made carefully and thoughtfully by the patient, the parents, and the physician together.  Children who are at risk for suicide and self-harm deserve supportive healthcare that is mutually agreed upon by the patient, their parents, and their physician. Legislation such as HB 321 that would put decisions about children’s healthcare in the hands of the government is dangerous and should not be enacted.  Protect trans kids; Oppose HB 321.  

On Wednesdays We #WearRed4Ed and KEEP OPPOSING HB350

Two weeks ago we asked you to show your opposition to Scholarship Tax Credits (HB350) by emailing your legislators and calling to leave a message for them on the Kentucky Legislative Hotline. You stepped up to the task, and we were able to register a substantial number of legislator contacts. That kind of coordinated effort from public school activists makes a real difference! 

The “school choice” advocates are still working hard to convince legislators to pass their Scholarship Tax Credit bill.  Watch this video from our Friends at People Over Politics KY to find out why vouchers are bad for Kentucky’s public schools.    

We need your help again today to keep up the pressure on legislators to vote NO on HB350. Please use this direct link to send an email to your legislators telling them to OPPOSE Scholarship Tax Credits in Kentucky. Even if your legislator is already committed to opposing HB 350, please send them an email anyway.  The volume of legislator contacts definitely matters.  

Click here to send an email or call 1-800-372-7181.  Our students deserve the very best. Our schools can’t afford to lose $25-50M in funding.  

Thank you for all you do for Kentucky schools!

Is God Allowed in Public School?

Cassie Lyles

The internet is rife with memes and viral posts blaming the problems in our schools on the fact that God is no longer welcome there.  A simple Google search will reveal plenty of examples. There is even the possibility of a bill being filed in this year’s legislative session requiring two minutes of silence at the beginning of each school day to create space for prayer in school.  (As a side note, this would essentially mean that, over the course of the year, an entire instructional day would be lost in this practice once you add it up.) As a practicing Christian, I am offended at the notion that anyone thinks that God is so small as to be “not allowed” anywhere!  You can’t exactly ban an omnipresent, all powerful being, and you can’t have it both ways. This exaggeration is just another way to try to pretend that Christianity is being discriminated against when what some people are actually wanting is that Christianity should be given priority over other faiths.  It’s almost as if those crying out on this topic conveniently forget the first phrase of the First Amendment which reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”  

Prayer is allowed in school.  In fact, if a student asks for space to pray, it must be provided for them.  Many Christian students, if they pray at school, are comfortable doing so in the midst of whatever else they may be doing.  Muslim students, on the other hand, often rearrange their prayer times so that they do not interfere with school or simply because they are afraid to request the space and time to conduct their prayers.  In fact, the only student in my ten year career who has ever asked to pray is a student I have right now. Almost every day at the conclusion of last period he asks if I have time for him to pray. He takes off his shoes and faces towards Mecca and prays.  Many times, I take that time to sit quietly at my desk and pray alongside him even if he doesn’t know it. It is a beautiful picture of the religious freedom we have in America, two people quietly practicing their own faith alongside each other and respecting that we do so differently.  

Students may lead prayer amongst themselves.  This happens in spaces like Fellowship of Christian Athletes or other student organized clubs.  When I was in school, we had morning prayer groups and events like “Meet me at the Pole” where students gathered around the flagpole before school and prayed.  The caveat, of course, is that teachers cannot lead students in prayer. This is only right, as young minds are impressionable and should not be swayed by the particular faith of their teacher.  This is a family responsibility. Faith is diverse and there is too big a possibility that a teacher may accidentally or intentionally force their own ideas of faith onto a student. Additionally, there are now standards created for Bible literacy in schools which some schools offer and others do not.  You can check them out here if you want, https://education.ky.gov/curriculum/conpro/socstud/Pages/historical_cultural_influences_of_the_bible.aspx

Next to my desk, I have a bulletin board of pictures and quotes that help remind me that I am human and refocus me in my mission to help students.  Among those words is a prayer that I use to start every day before kids get to my room to remind myself how I want to live each day.

“May God give you Grace never to sell yourself short! 

Grace to risk something big for something good!   

Grace to remember that the world is too dangerous for anything but truth 

and too small for anything but Love!” 

-William Sloane Coffin

Last week these words weren’t enough.  I listened to a 15 year old girl weeping down the hall about a trauma from her childhood that the lesson her class was doing had reawoken in her memory.  I was not supposed to hear her conversation, but she said, “I prayed to God over and over that my mom would come home and He never answered me. I wanted to believe so badly.”  Would two minutes of forced silence at the beginning of each day help her? I think not. I however, sat at my desk for part of my planning quietly praying for her and crying my own eyes out because she’s not the only student carrying these huge traumas and needing so much more help than school can provide.  If we want to help students like this one, we need to be making sure we have as many mental health counselors in school as possible and wrap around services that help in times of homelessness and hunger. Mindfulness programs like the one we have at Fairdale High can also be an amazing help to students to help them acquire coping skills and have a place to de escalate.  

This being said, I am one of many teachers who view teaching as a kind of ministry.  I don’t need to lead my students in prayer, force them to pray, or even say anything about God to daily live out Jesus’s teachings in my words and actions.  I can show them love in action every day. I can care for them and listen when they feel voiceless. I can be the kind word when all they have heard that day is anxiety and tension.  I can give them tools and knowledge to move forward in life. I need the strength that God gives me each day to be able to do that because teaching is a weary, hard calling. God is still in our schools.  It’s just that Christianity is not and should not be forced upon students without their consent.

We Need Funding; Undercounting Hurts Kids

Emilie McKiernan Blanton

The Census is coming! The last census was in 2010 and it is estimated that around one million children were not counted in that year. The census determines funding for all kinds of government services and education is included in that. Undercounting means less funding for students, severely restricting the type of resources they have access to. Here at VOTE, we will be bringing you up-to-date information on the census as well as what you can do to help.

If you’re a JCPS teacher, you hopefully received information from your school to pass out during our Parent-Teacher Conferences. Both the school district and your union will be working to ensure that every possible student is counted. We are also working with a coalition of other organizations that have the best interests of children at heart.

In the coming weeks, you will begin receiving detailed information from the Census Bureau. JCPS teachers will be encouraged to take time to discuss the census with their students. You can win $500 for you and you students if you enter the sweepstakes after using Census Bureau’s Statistics in Schools materials during the Census Bureau’s Statistics in Schools Week from March 2-6. Resources from JCPS are also being provided to help teachers and students understand how the census works.

On April 1, the census will officially be open for responses. Families will be able to answer online for the first time this year. Options for mail and phone are still available, but all families will have access to a link to fill out their census information. If you want to be notified when the link becomes active, you can text COUNTMEIN to 51555 to receive updates from Metro United Way about the census.

Census information is protected by federal law. Your responses, and the responses of your students, are not to be used by the government in a harmful way. It’s important to note that the citizenship question will not be on the census. Families need to respond regardless of citizenship status, which won’t be tied to the census at all. It’s important to help families complete the census as early as possible. From May to July, census takers will begin knocking door-to-door in order to make sure everyone is counted. You will only have your door knocked on if you have NOT completed the census.

Our national union, NEA, is encouraging educators to sign up with the Census Bureau to be census takers. Why? Because our families and communities already trust us. Families that haven’t completed the census yet are more likely to open the door for you, a friendly face they know from school. You can apply to be a census taker using the census website, a position you will be paid for!

Keep up with census updates here on VOTE! All of our census information is compiled on our We COUNT Kentucky page.

The census is vitally important to making sure our schools and children are appropriately funded, as well as other services necessary for our students to be safe and have every opportunity for success.