JCPS COVID testing at Ballard High School 1-2-22

People wait for COVID-19 testing at Ballard High School on Jan. 2, 2021.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Jefferson County Public Schools is preparing for nontraditional instruction if schools need to transition to remote learning, according to the district’s top spokesperson.

Tuesday marked the first day of post-holiday classes at JCPS, where more than 1,200 students and more than 500 employees had active COVID-19 cases by late afternoon amid another surge in cases across Kentucky and the U.S. Kentucky's COVID-19 incidence rate hit 100.5 new daily cases per 100,000 residents based on a seven-day rolling average on Monday, while Jefferson County's reached 182, state data show.

Kentucky school districts have 10 days for nontraditional instruction during the 2021-22 school year after getting broad flexibility to use remote learning in the two previous academic years affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Our plan right now is to remain in-person, but we have to be ready. We have to be prepared,” said Renee Murphy, head of communications and community relations for JCPS. “We've seen what's happened in the past with COVID, so we want to make sure that our students have the tools to continue learning if that time comes that we do have to make that decision.”

Tammy Berlin, a humanities teacher at Atherton High School and vice president of the Jefferson County Teachers Association, spent part of her day Tuesday ensuring her students could access Google Meets in case her lessons need to take place virtually.

Atherton also directed teachers to make sure students had devices to access schoolwork remotely and to consider ways to adapt lessons for virtual classes, she said.

“We were asked to just make sure that we are thinking about how we would transition with our lessons,” Berlin said.

The rapid escalation of COVID-19 cases has Berlin rethinking her lessons regardless of whether JCPS temporarily ceases in-person instruction. She’s looking to implement more digital elements in her unit on theater to limit physical interactions among students in her classroom as COVID-19 caseloads increase.

“Even if we don't go to NTI, I'm still going to make that switch and do more digital just so they can stay spaced out,” Berlin said.

Still, Berlin said she would not be surprised if the district used one or more of its nontraditional instruction days in the near future. A few teachers told her that their schools were short on substitute teachers on Tuesday, meaning some teachers had to cover for others who were absent, she said.

More than 600 teachers were absent Tuesday, according to the district.

“I do think it is kind of good that we were there together in-person today just so we could make sure that all the kids had devices and that they knew how to access our meetings,” she said.

If the district transitions to remote learning, JCPS families will have “ample” time to prepare for the change, Murphy said, noting that the district has provided information to families “just about every single day” since the pandemic’s start in March 2020.

“Now with the increase in cases, we're continuing to make sure we have updates for families, and we'll share information as we get it in real-time with our community,” Murphy said.

Berlin urged families to keep their children home if they have COVID-19 symptoms. Teachers, she said, “can tell that there are sick kids in their rooms.”

“That's the only thing we can do to protect ourselves from this,” Berlin said.

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