JCPS NTI Teacher

Hazelwood Elementary teacher Sumer Smith interacts with her students during remote learning day, 1/11/2022. 

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Jefferson County Public Schools will continue to monitor staff absences through the holiday weekend before determining whether to reopen classrooms next week, Superintendent Marty Pollio told reporters Friday.

Kentucky's largest school district exhausted four of its 10 nontraditional instruction days this week after grappling with hundreds of employee absences last week. More than 1,100 had called out on Jan. 6, which represents between 15 percent and 20 percent of the district's workforce, Pollio said.

The district plans to decide on whether to reopen classrooms for in-person instruction by Monday afternoon, he said.

"That makes it very challenging, obviously, to run and operate school in a safe manner, and that's what we have to make sure that we do," Pollio said.

"We only have six more days so we have to use them wisely," he said. "If there is any way we can be back on Tuesday, we will make that decision."

JCPS is one of several school districts that have either transitioned to remote learning or closed entirely as COVID-19 cases surge across the state and infections and exposures mount among students and staff.

Pollio hoped the 11-day break from in-person learning would give employees time to clear COVID-19 quarantines. JCPS will be closed Monday for the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday, and classes are scheduled to resume Tuesday.

Data regularly updated by the district suggest more JCPS workers have tested positive for COVID-19 or been quarantined after exposures since the district ceased in-person learning Monday. Nearly 600 employees had contracted COVID-19 and nearly 100 more were in quarantine that morning compared to 738 positive cases and 142 quarantines among staff as of 11 a.m. Friday, according to JCPS data.

"We have this transition period of a lot of people coming off of quarantine but also some going on to that as well, so it's difficult at this time to know exactly what those numbers are," Pollio said. "I'm very hopeful that we will be able to go back on Tuesday, but I also don't want to give false hope that we are going back."

Pollio described the district's third foray in nontraditional instruction, dubbed "NTI 3.0," as "in many ways seamless."

On Wednesday, for example, the district counted more than 1.4 million Google Classroom visits, more than 500,000 Google Meet sessions and more than 700,000 visits to the education platform Clever, Pollio said. Schools are still determining participation rates and have five days to report them to the Kentucky Department of Education, he said.

"Obviously kids are being very engaged. They're working hard," Pollio said. "I think our faculty knows, our staff knows how to do NTI better and our students do as well, and so it's not something, obviously, we want to be in. We want to be an in-person instruction, but I think we are providing that better than we have at any time in the past."

Kentucky school districts will get another 10 days of targeted remote instruction per school after Senate Bill 25 passed the General Assembly on Thursday. Gov. Andy Beshear signed the measure into law Friday, meaning it takes effect immediately.

SB 25, touted by sponsor Sen. Max Wise as a "surgical" approach because it allows superintendents to utilize remote learning for certain groups, classes or schools rather than closing entire districts in response to COVID-19 absences, will provide some help for JCPS, Pollio said.

"Remote days are a little challenging for a district our size, but we will obviously bring that into play as well once they become legal," he said.

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