JCPS - Academy at Shawnee - STUDENTS IN MASKS  8-11-2021 1 (2).jpg

Students wearing masks on the first day of classes at the Academy @ Shawnee in Jefferson County Public Schools. Aug. 11, 2021. 

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Masks will be optional at Jefferson County Public Schools starting Thursday, the district announced a day after he was given authority to make such decisions.

Thursday will mark the first time that students, staff and visitors have not been required to wear masks inside JCPS facilities and buses since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Masks will be optional and will still be available to anyone who requests one," the district said in its announcement. "While the mask mandate is being lifted, we should not let our guard down against COVID-19."

The Jefferson County Board of Education voted 4-3 Tuesday to give Pollio authority to adjust indoor masking policies at Kentucky’s largest public school district based on COVID-19 metrics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention until June 30.

Jefferson County was in the CDC’s medium category for COVID-19 transmission as of Friday, meaning entities should consider universal masking requirements inside congregate spaces and targeted use inside schools after exposures under federal and state public health guidance.

The district will return to mandatory masking if local COVID-19 metrics put Jefferson County in the high transmission category, according to JCPS announcement.

“We are excited about the developments over the past several weeks to get us to this point,” Pollio said Wednesday.

JCPS is among the last of Kentucky’s school districts to make masks optional as COVID-19 cases drop.

“I think we'll still see a number of kids in masks, maybe staff members, but I think obviously we'll see a lot that won't be in masks,” Pollio said. “I'll have to get home to my daughter and talk to her about which one she's going to do.”

Nearby Kentucky school districts like Hardin County Schools, Bullitt County Public Schools and Oldham County Schools have scrapped mask mandates for optional protocols in recent weeks.

John Wright, community relations specialist for Hardin County Schools, said the district of about 15,000 students has had “a peaceful ride” since it transitioned to a mask-optional policy on Feb. 17.

The district reported six active COVID-19 cases among students and staff in schools this week, and since HCS made indoor masking optional, Hardin County’s coronavirus incidence rate has plummeted from 51.8 new daily cases per 100,000 residents based on a seven-day average to 11.6 as of Monday.

“Our COVID numbers have really, really gone down,” Wright said. “… I really can't give you a number of the number of students who still are wearing their masks. There are several, and they are certainly welcome to do that and encouraged to do that for as long as they feel comfortable to do so. Obviously most aren’t.”

Other school districts have seen similar trends since moving to optional indoor masking.

Bullitt County Public Schools, for instance, reported 10 active COVID-19 cases in schools on Wednesday. Since the district made indoor masking optional on Feb. 23, Bullitt County's coronavirus incidence rate dropped from 20.5 new daily COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents to 8.7 as of Monday.

"Over the past several weeks, we have seen our numbers steadily declining, which has continued since we've been mask optional," BCPS Communications Director Kali Ervin said in an email.

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