LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Students in middle and high schools will alternate between classroom and virtual learning once in-person instruction resumes at Jefferson County Public Schools, and those who refuse to follow COVID-19 guidelines could face disciplinary action, Superintendent Marty Pollio said.
Pollio and other JCPS leaders on Tuesday presented the district’s expansive reopening plan to the Jefferson County Board of Education, with dates among few details left unresolved.
Exactly when JCPS will allow students back inside schools will be left to the board, which will get updates on nontraditional instruction and the district’s reopening plan at every meeting starting next week, Pollio said. Classrooms in Kentucky’s largest school district have remained closed since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March.
“I understand the frustration and the pain of families who need to be back in school and want to be back in school,” Pollio said, noting that his daughter will be among students returning for in-person instruction once schools reopen.
“Although it’s difficult and tough and I understand the frustration, there are the tough decisions that we have to make moving forward to ensure health and safety,” he said.
JCPS announced last week that distance learning will continue until local COVID-19 data improves, and Jefferson County’s escalating coronavirus incidence rate may force district officials to suspend high school sports starting next week.
The district had tentatively scheduled to gradually begin reopening schools starting at the elementary level on Thursday, but Pollio cited rising COVID-19 numbers in Jefferson County for his decision to continue nontraditional instruction for now.
Jefferson County’s COVID-19 incidence rate Tuesday was 31.1 new daily coronavirus cases per 100,000 residents based on a seven-day rolling average, placing it solidly in the red category of the state’s color-coded COVID-19 map alongside other counties with incidence rates higher than 25.
Pollio noted that the White House and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have Jefferson County in similarly high categories of COVID-19 transmission rates. He and members of the board have said Jefferson County needs to be in or near the state’s yellow category of between one and 10 new COVID-19 infections per 100,000 residents per day before JCPS reopens classrooms.
“As soon as we go down, we will get our students back in as quickly as possible,” Pollio said.
Chris Kolb, the board’s vice chairman, who represents District 2, suggested that those who have urged board members to reopen schools should also press Gov. Andy Beshear and Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer for more stringent COVID-19 restrictions in hopes to containing the coronavirus.
“You’re going to have to start calling upon the mayor and governor, I think, to put some limitations in place to what people can do or there’s really no hope for being back to in-person education this year as far as I see it,” Kolb said.
Once schools reopen, students will gradually return for in-person instruction on the same schedule that would have begun Thursday. Elementary students would resume classroom learning followed a week later by sixth- and ninth-grade students. All other grades would begin in-person instruction by the third week in the phased reopening approach unanimously approved by the board Tuesday.
Middle and high school students taking in-person classes at JCPS would be divided into two groups that would alternate between classroom and remote learning, with one group attending classes Mondays and Tuesdays and the other coming to schools on Thursdays and Fridays. All students would learn from home on Wednesdays under the hybrid plan.
District leaders are still considering a similar approach for elementary students if that’s the safest approach to reopening schools, Pollio said.
The district expects a significant share of families to opt for virtual instruction, potentially cutting the numbers of students in elementary schools by hundreds each.
Jimmy Adams, head of human resources for JCPS, said about 40% of the 58,000 families who have responded to a district survey have indicated their children will continue learning from home once schools reopen.
Pollio also cited feedback that nontraditional instruction is more difficult for the district’s younger learners.
“We prefer to bring elementary back five days,” he said.
Once schools reopen, students will be asked to follow public health guidance such as wearing masks indoors and while riding school buses.
Students who continually refuse will likely be disciplined, Pollio said. Which punitive measures students could face was not available Tuesday.
“Clear guidance will be brought prior to us coming back to school about what the progressive steps a school will take, but they will involve discipline,” he said, adding that other districts have reported better compliance from students than initially expected when schools reopened.
School leaders are finalizing reopening plans for their buildings, which will be available publicly on the district’s website and include specifics in areas suuh as student arrival and dismissal, isolation rooms for those who display COVID-19 symptoms and feeding guidelines.
Chris Perkins, chief operations officer for JCPS, said some schools are looking at alternative meal delivery systems, such as providing bagged breakfasts to students upon entry or setting up kiosks to hand out lunches.
The district also expects more stringent cleaning schedules when in-person classes resume, and not just inside schools.
Bus drivers will be expected to clean their buses between routes, including at the district depot, Perkins said. Staff will help students disembark and board buses and maintain social distancing, he said.
The district’s virtual learning academy and hybrid schedule for middle and high schools should also help limit how many students ride buses each day, Pollio said.
“Really only about 30% of our kids for middle and high will be on school buses on each day,” he said referring to the roughly 60% of families districtwide who have so far selected in-person instruction for their children.
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