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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – The Jefferson County Board of Education has approved Superintendent Marty Pollio’s proposal to extend distance learning at Jefferson County Public Schools with the possibility of gradually reopening classrooms if local COVID-19 numbers improve.

JCPS began the 2020-21 school year with at least six weeks of nontraditional instruction on Aug. 25, and the board voted unanimously Tuesday for Pollio’s recommendation to continue monitoring local COVID-19 data to determine when to reopen classrooms in Kentucky’s largest school district, potentially starting in late October.

Pollio said that Jefferson County’s COVID-19 testing positivity and incidence rates will need to decline before he would suggest resuming in-person instruction.

“Right now we are going in the wrong direction,” Pollio said.

His recommendation to return to school will rely heavily on the state’s new color-coded COVID-19 incidence rate map.

Jefferson County needs to be in or trend toward the yellow phase, or have no more than 10 new daily COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents based on a seven-day average, before JCPS classrooms reopen, he said.

“We have to be confident that the trend is going down and it’s not just dipping into yellow for one day,” Pollio said, adding that the district “is not in a spot to make that recommendation when we are closer to red than we are to yellow.”

Jefferson County’s incidence rate was 20.7 new cases per 100,000 residents as of Tuesday, up from 16.8 when Pollio announced his recommendation on Friday, according to state data.

Jefferson County is squarely in the state’s orange phase of between 10 and 25 new cases per 100,000 residents.

The county’s COVID-19 testing positivity rate is 5.5% based on a two-week rolling average, according to the Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness.

Pollio expects to present a detailed back-to-school plan to the board in mid-October, which may be coupled with a recommended start date if local COVID-19 cases decline, he said, noting that he wants up to two weeks for schools to prepare for reopening.

“I want to give every opportunity to get our kids back into school if the data shows us that,” he said. “We know our kids need it.”

If COVID-19 data improved locally, Pollio would set an Oct. 22 target date for elementary schools to reopen. A week later, sixth- and ninth-grade students would return, followed by fully reopening middle and high schools with alternating schedules on Nov. 2.

Board member James Craig, who represents District 3, said, "I appreciate that it seems like everyone’s thinking is based on public health data and not the multitude of opinions that are being flown our way."

Parents will be asked to choose between in-person and remote learning starting this week so schools can begin preparing instruction models, but parents will not be immediately locked into their choices, Pollio said, noting that the district expects between 30% and 50% of JCPS families will choose to enroll their children in virtual academies.

Chris Kolb, the board’s vice chair who represents District 2, lamented that more stringent actions hadn’t been taken to contain the spread of COVID-19 locally and statewide, such as stay-at-home orders.

“That’s the only way that kids are ever going to be able to go back to school,” Kolb said. “It makes me pretty angry, frankly, that people are able to go out to bars and restaurants with very little restrictions.”

“I think other governmental entities need to step up and do their part, much more than they are now,” he said. “I think it’s irresponsible that they haven’t to this point, and our kids and our community are going to pay a really steep price in the future by the hit to their education and social development that they’re taking right now.”

Once schools reopen, Pollio said the district will also monitor active COVID-19 cases and individuals quarantined at every JCPS school alongside the local coronavirus caseload.

Board member Linda Duncan, who represents District 5, said JCPS will be dealing with COVID-19 regardless of when classrooms reopen.

“When we move into yellow, moving into that category just means that we have maybe a better chance of doing this safely,” she said. “… There is nothing that says this is risk-free.”

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