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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – After "a very successful" first day of the 2022-23 school year at Jefferson County Public Schools, Superintendent Marty Pollio said Kentucky's largest school district still has some kinks to work out, particularly in transportation.

JCPS lists more than 50 bus routes running on delays ranging from 15 minutes to about an hour and half this week, and while the district has dozens of prospective drivers moving through the hiring process, Pollio said Thursday it could be weeks before more help arrives for current drivers handling multiple runs.

Most of the 60,000 students who rely on bus service were home by 6:30 p.m., and all bus-riders were home by 7:30 p.m., according to the district.

Despite the staffing issues — and a severe thunderstorm that knocked out power at two bus depots around 2:20 p.m. — Pollio said the district cleared all of its bus riders six minutes earlier than the first day of 2021-22.

"I don't think people quite understand the challenge that comes with transportation on the first day of school," he said during a Thursday news conference outside Byck Elementary School, noting the district has about 7,000 bus stops throughout Jefferson County. "... There are challenges to figuring out all 7,000 bus stops, getting on the right bus, getting our youngest kids on the right bus, making sure they're going to the right school. Admittedly, we have probably the most complex transportation system in America."

Hiring and training new drivers can take weeks, Pollio said.

"You're usually looking at at least a four- to five-week process," he said. "We started a lot of these two to three weeks ago, so hopefully, in the next two weeks, we're going to start onboarding some of our new bus drivers."

Byck Elementary Principal Carla Kolodey said the school worked early Wednesday to get students' transportation information sorted out by about 12:30 p.m.

"Yesterday was great," she said. "... We made an attempt to do a practice dismissal, but of course the rain held us off on that, so we just had to go with a regular dismissal."

The last bus arrived by 9:30 a.m. and all students left the school by 4:25 p.m., not "too terribly late" by normal standards, Kolodey said.

"We have a couple of double runs that we're used to that," she said. "... It's pretty typical that they get their second run around 4:10 (p.m.), and so by 4:25 (p.m.), that wasn't terrible."

Pollio is also hoping to lift the district's mask mandate as early as Monday. He'll be watching for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to update its COVID-19 community levels map when it's update at 6 p.m. Thursday to see whether Jefferson County falls out of the "red" for high levels of COVID-19 transmission, hospitalizations and deaths.

"There is no one more who wants to see it turn 'yellow' than me," he said. "The numbers have decreased in some of the areas that that the CDC looks at, so I would love to make the announcement later this evening, that mass become optional next week."

JCPS requires masks when Jefferson County hits "red" per CDC metrics under a policy unanimously approved by the Jefferson County Board of Education at its July 19 meeting, but at least one board member has said she hopes the board revisits its mandatory masking policy. JCPS is one of only eight large school districts across the U.S. requiring face coverings, according to data aggregator Burbio.

The district's masking policy is not on the agenda for Tuesday's board meeting.

"But that doesn't mean that a board member can't make a motion to alter the agenda at the meeting to discuss that," Pollio said.

More than half of respondents to a Jefferson County Teachers Association poll either opposed or strongly opposed the JCPS masking policy, and about 150 protested outside the VanHoose Education Center before the board's Aug. 2 meeting against the district's mask policy.

Pollio said he did not observe or hear of any widespread issues regarding mask compliance during the first day of classes Wednesday.

"I think it was pretty successful on that front," he said.                                               

Pollio said he believed the district stands on solid legal ground for its masking policy given recommendations by the CDC and Kentucky Department for Public Health.

Crestview Hills attorney Christopher Wiest may test that. In a Wednesday Facebook post, Wiest sought JCPS parents with sincerely held religious beliefs against masking in anticipation of a federal lawsuit next week.

Wiest said in an email to WDRB News Thursday that he's in the process of working toward the federal lawsuit. He declined a request to interview parent who have reached out to him aggrieved by the district's masking policy.

"Clients and potential clients need to remain confidential until we make a court filing under applicable ethical rules," he said in the email.

JCPS, for its part, does not recognize religious exemptions for masking and no one has requested one, a district spokesman said in an email to reporters Thursday.

"Following the recommendations of CDC and KDPH, I find that we're on pretty strong legal ground," Pollio said Thursday. "I'm no lawyer and I guess someone else will have to decide that, but it seems to me we are."

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