LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Jefferson County Public Schools ended its first week of the 2021-22 school year with nearly 1,000 students and staff quarantined after exposure to COVID-19 cases.

But Superintendent Marty Pollio says that number would have been higher without the district’s universal masking policy inside schools, where classes began Wednesday.

“I think you can see that masking makes a difference in cases and in quarantines, so I can’t tell you how much I believe that’s the right decision for this district and all districts,” Pollio said.

As of 4:35 p.m. Tuesday, JCPS reported 209 COVID-19 cases among students and 42 among staff, with 945 students and 32 district employees in quarantine due to coronavirus exposure.

The district projected enrollment at nearly 93,000 K-12 students for the 2021-22 school year and had 91,354 such students attending classes by the fifth day of the school year, data presented Tuesday to the Jefferson County Board of Education show.

Several JCPS schools have reported numbers of quarantined students in the double digits as of Tuesday. Farnsley Middle School has the most students in quarantine with 67 followed by Noe Middle School with 38, according to district COVID-19 data. The schools have reported three and four active COVID-19 cases, respectively, among students and none among staff, JCPS data show.

Marion C. Moore School reported the highest number of active COVID-19 cases among students with eight, per district data. The school also has eight students currently in quarantine, JCPS data show.

The school board passed a universal masking policy inside schools regardless of vaccination status before Gov. Andy Beshear and the Kentucky Board of Education enacted similar mandates amid a surge of COVID-19 cases driven by the more infectious delta variant.

A legislative oversight panel found the state education board’s emergency regulation regarding masking in schools “deficient” and sent it back to Beshear for review.

The governor later upheld the board’s directive, which may be repealed as guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the Kentucky Department for Public Health on indoor masking in schools changes. The board committed to reconsidering the emergency regulation within 24 hours of any such recommendations.

Board member James Craig, who represents District 3, asked Pollio if there could be an operational “breaking point” for JCPS based on the number of students placed in quarantine.

While JCPS can handle high numbers of students in quarantine, employee exposures to COVID-19 may pose problems for Kentucky’s largest school district, Pollio said.

“Staffing is the one the really puts us in jeopardy because we’re already short as it is, as most districts are,” he said.

Pollio credited the district’s low number of staff members in quarantine with COVID-19 vaccinations.

Asked by board member Chris Kolb, who represents District 2, about the prospect of requiring employees to be vaccinated or take regular COVID-19 tests, Pollio said JCPS is beginning to broach the subject with the district’s labor unions.

“They’re having that discussion with their boards, but if that’s something you choose, a vaccine mandate for employees or testing once a week, that is something that we can bring to you,” Pollio said.

The superintendent also addressed overcrowding on JCPS buses in the opening days of the school year, saying the district’s transportation office is “doing everything they possibly can” to alleviate the issue.

“We are at a critical juncture,” he said, noting that he hoped JCPS would consider revising its school start times as part of a solution. “… We are going to work hard this year so that we don't drop any routes, but as far as the larger picture of transportation, we are going to have to make some changes.”

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