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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – A decision on whether Jefferson County Public Schools will allow students to return to classrooms — or extend distance learning — may come by Sept. 29, Superintendent Marty Pollio said Tuesday.

Pollio and other JCPS administrators discussed how Kentucky’s largest school district is handling nontraditional instruction and the possibility of reopening schools during a Jefferson County Board of Education work session.

A detailed reopening plan will be presented to the board ahead of a decision to resume classroom instruction, Pollio said, noting that unless the board called a special meeting he expected to offer his recommendation by the Sept. 29 meeting.

"We can present several weeks of this data to you to make that recommendation as to whether we go back and how we go back," Pollio said.

Chairwoman Diane Porter said without specifics on how JCPS will reopen classrooms, she isn’t ready to vote in two weeks.

"I will continue to say this is too important for our students, it’s too important for our staff and it’s too important for our families when our students go home at the end of the day," she said. "… We need a plan as to what this is going to look like before we say it’s OK."

Local and state health officials also offered their input on a new color-coded COVID-19 metric that school districts will use to determine whether to transition to distance learning, depending on counties’ caseloads.

JCPS started the 2020-21 school year with at least six weeks of nontraditional instruction, called “NTI 2.0,” and Gov. Andy Beshear has recommended districts throughout Kentucky delay reopening classrooms until at least Sept. 28, based on an escalation of COVID-19 cases. Dozens of school systems have rejected that guidance.

The new COVID-19 metric will allow school superintendents to use local data to decide on a weekly basis whether to transition to distance learning. School districts in counties that reach “red,” or have weekly averages of more than 25 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents each day, should move students to remote instruction and suspend athletics, according to guidance from the Cabinet for Health and Family Service and from Dr. Connie White, deputy commissioner of the Kentucky Department for Public Health.

Jefferson County is in “orange” on the state’s new COVID-19 metric, which represents heightened community spread and between 10 and 25 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents per day, White said.

Districts in counties with that designation should consider shutting down classrooms and transition to remote learning, according to the state’s guidance.

Jefferson County’s COVID-19 testing positivity rate is 4.8% based on a two-week rolling average, which is higher than the state’s seven-day rolling average of 3.97%.

“This is not on the backs of the school systems to fix this,” White said. “… This is a community issue. You can’t function in a bubble.”

White said school districts in “orange” counties should work with their health departments to determine ways to diminish the spread of COVID-19 and encourage residents to follow guidelines such as masking, proper hand hygiene and social distancing.

“How can we take those three very simple concepts and get them out into our community so they can understand this will keep schools open?" she asked.

Pollio said he would need to see a regular decline in local COVID-19 caseloads “and not just a one-week data point” before recommending a reopening of classrooms.

“I think we need to see a trend,” he said. “The last thing we want is to start school and then stop it two weeks later. I think that would be the most frustrating thing for families and educators.”

Some parents are eager for their children to return to JCPS classrooms.

“All three of us in this house cry a lot because it is so frustrating,” said Christina Del Valle, a single mother of two JCPS students.

Her efforts to enroll her two sons, one of whom suffers from dyslexia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, in local nontraditional instruction camps have been unsuccessful so far. In one instance, a camp would have cost her $3,000 for both of her children.

“I have a job, but I can't work right now because I have to be at home with my kids because I don't have an option for childcare, so I'm at home living on unemployment,” Del Valle told WDRB News.

Dr. Adriana McCubbin, a physician whose son has an intellectual disability, believes students with special needs and those in at-risk populations need to return to schools sooner rather than later.

“What I want to happen is for families to be given a choice,” she told WDRB News.

While students will not return to classrooms immediately, some will be able to attend community learning hubs and receive needed services through agreements passed Tuesday with Evolve502 and Humana. Only board member Chris Brady voted against the agreements, citing concerns with costs and the district’s assumption of liability in both partnerships.

JCPS plans to provide up to 30 certified substitute teachers for community learning centers opened by Evolve502 during nontraditional instruction.

The district expects to spend $200,000 based on enrolling an estimated 2,011 students at 50 such centers, according to a presentation before the board Tuesday. JCPS students will get academic support, meals, computer access and personal protective equipment at the learning hubs.

Pollio said he believes the learning centers will be a resource for JCPS “permanently.”

“I think when we go fully back to school, this is a model that we can support for afterschool and even possibly weekend, summer, winter break learning,” he said.

The agreement with Humana gives JCPS access to the first and second floors of the Waterside Building, at 101 E. Market St., so the district can provide support services to students.

That will allow JCPS to conduct assessments and provide other services to students so the district won’t need to open multiple buildings during nontraditional instruction, Pollio said.

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