FRANKFORT, Ky. (LEX 18) — The pandemic hit students of all ages hard over the past year. So, a bill moving through the Kentucky legislature wants to give those students a do-over.
Senate Bill 128 offers any student enrolled in a Kentucky public or private school "in grades kindergarten through 12 during the 2020-2021 school year" to request "to use the 2021-2022 school year as a supplemental school year to retake or supplement the courses or grades the student has already taken."
"I see it as an opportunity bill," said the bill's sponsor, Sen. Max Wise. "I see it as opportunity that was lost in this past year of school."
The bill is an education measure. However, much of the online buzz about it focuses on athletics.
"Once again, it's like the sports page in newspapers. We tend to sometimes turn to sports first and many people with this bill want to turn to sports," said Wise. "But this is an academic focus bill - on an opportunity, if families wish to choose, to supplement next year as a repeat year."
The bill gives high school students a fifth year of KHSAA eligibility if they use "the 2021-2022 school year as a supplemental school year" - meaning, the students must re-take their current classes.
KHSAA Commissioner Julian Tackett emphasizes that sports are not the priority in this bill. But if they weren't addressed, there was concern that students would turn down a good academic option if they weren't allowed to continue playing.
"The reason athletics got added to it, or at least the supportive reason we found, was that we didn't want athletics rules to keep people from making good academic decisions," said Tackett.
However, some people worry the sports aspect of this bill could be misused to help some athletic programs hold on to key players or help certain athletes get a better shot at getting recruited.
Tackett said there are always a few people who will attempt to misuse things. But he believes most high school students don't want to be held back to continue with high school athletics.
"I think if people listen the students, they're going to have very little repeating because most of the students want to do whatever they can to get out of high school and get to college or get to adulthood," said Tackett.
Tackett said the KHSAA doesn't have a position on the bill. The only thing they're requesting is that the bill doesn't alter KHSAA age rule.
Right now, per state law, if students are 19 before August 1, they are ineligible to play. The KHSAA wants to keep that limitation.
"Seventh and eighth graders can already play high school in our state. We're the only state that does that. So, we've already got six-year gaps, seven-year gaps, if people were held back really early," said Tackett. "Now, an eight-year gap? You get into safety issues, and girls being in locker rooms with women and boys being in locker rooms with men. There are so many arguments that can come up if the age rule is waived."
The bill does not waive the age rule and the bill's sponsor says that won't change.
However, all of this focus on athletics is taking away from the impact this bill can have on education, especially when it comes to elementary school students.
"I know of Kindergarten students who have been doing virtual all year who don't know the letters yet - they can't identify the letters," said Rep. Tina Bojanowski as the bill was being discussed before the House Education Committee on Friday. "To send those kids on to first grade is just setting them up to increase those gaps we know already exist."