04-05-21 Marty Pollio Grace M James Academy.jpg

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Farnsley Middle School Principal Carolyn Smith woke up an hour and a half before her 4:30 a.m. alarm Monday, the first day she could see students inside the building since taking over as principal in June.

“I’ve been excited all day,” said Smith, whose waist bag was fully stocked with disposable masks.

Monday marked the first day of in-person instruction for many middle and high school students who opted to return to classrooms at Jefferson County Public Schools in more than a year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Students whose last names begin with A-K will attend in-person classes Monday and Tuesday followed by L-Z on Thursday and Friday under the district’s hybrid learning schedule.

Monday was also the first time that students at the Grace James Academy of Excellence stepped inside the all-girls school, which opened during the 2020-21 school year.

“It’s been a long time coming,” said Latonya Frazier-Goatley, assistant principal at the school. “We’ve been out since March. Of course, for these girls it’s their first time in middle school, their first experience, so we want to make it the best that it can be. I think we began that work online, but we’re ready to continue that.”

“I’m really looking forward to seeing their faces when they get off of the buses and out of the cars and get to come into the school for the first time and just beginning this new work together,” she said.

Nearly 80% of the inaugural sixth grade class at Grace James Academy opted for classroom instruction, she said.

At Farnsley, Smith said about 60% of her students chose the school’s in-person learning option. She expects that number will increase, particularly among eighth graders.

“Some of those are moving back over,” she said.

Cara Johnson, who is in the seventh grade at Farnsley, said Monday felt like the first day of classes entirely rather than nearing the end of the 2020-21 school year. Returning to classes and having more human interaction

Getting ready for in-person classes Monday instead of sitting in front of a computer screen was “a good feeling” for her, she said.

“Being on a computer all day gets kind of, I guess you could say, lonely,” Johnson said. “You’re on there by yourself kind of.”

"Honestly, I'm so excited that I'm back," she said.

JCPS has gradually resumed in-person learning on hybrid schedules, starting with elementary students on March 17.

Since then, fewer students have been quarantined for COVID-19 exposure compared to past months. Monday marked the first day back for JCPS schools after spring break.

The highest daily reported total for quarantined students at JCPS was 25 on March 24, according to the state's COVID-19 data.

"In all honesty, it's better than I expected," Superintendent Marty Pollio said at Grace James Academy. "As I've said many times, we expect to quarantine through contact tracing. That is a reality."

JCPS has not had to quarantine hundreds and thousands of students at a time like other large school districts after they reopened their classrooms, Pollio said.

"We hope that continues, but we think that's a big part of our employees and our leaders, our teachers implementing these guidelines successfully," he said.

Some of those guidelines have been relaxed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Kentucky agencies.

While JCPS no longer requires school personnel to take student temperatures upon entry in light of the updated "Healthy at School" guidance, 6 feet of social distancing will remain inside classrooms for now.

The CDC and state have said students can be spaced 3 feet apart inside classes while adhering to other mitigation measures like masking.

Pollio said the district didn't want to confuse students by changing its social distancing guidelines shortly after students returned to schools.

"We might make adjustments," he said. "As we see right now, we will probably keep it this way, but we also want to keep that flexibility and be able to evaluate as we move forward."

Farnsley, for one, will continue screening students for fevers as they enter the building for classes.

"It makes people a lot more relaxed," said Smith, the principal. "Let's keep our plan how we have our plan, and until they tell us we cannot, then we won't."

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