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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Officials at Jefferson County Public Schools say they will be ready to meet the needs of students who have suffered more than others during the COVID-19 pandemic after classrooms reopen starting next week.

The Jefferson County Board of Education heard the district's multifaceted equity plan during a board meeting Tuesday. Some board members who voted against resuming in-person instruction at JCPS raised concerns that the district's reopening strategy did not prioritize its most vulnerable students.

Elementary schools will begin operating on a hybrid schedule March 17 followed by middle and high schools on April 5 in the district's reopening plan, which was approved by the board Feb. 25 on a 4-3 vote. The board, in a separate and unanimous vote that day, directed Superintendent Marty Pollio's administration to develop a comprehensive plan to address inequities in the district's reopening strategy.

"We should have had this racial equity plan within the reopening schools document to you," Pollio told the board Tuesday. "Racial equity is a pillar of ours."

The district's equity plan aims to help students academically and emotionally while also keeping them safe inside schools once classrooms reopen. The plan includes assigning nurses to every school starting with those that have high minority enrollments, using central office staff in Title I schools and recounting the district's homeless student population.

Robert Moore, the district's chief of schools, said the current total of homeless students is down from recent school years. Getting an accurate count of homeless students at JCPS will be a priority when in-person learning resumes, he said.

"We need to know what the real count is, and I think once we start back school and reopen schools, we'll have a better idea," Moore said.

The district's equity plan prohibits schools from suspending students who are in preschool through third grade during the rest of the school year, creates student equity groups in elementary schools and dedicates $3 million in federal stimulus funds for equity and culturally competent training.

JCPS also hopes to provide schools additional resources for kindergarten recovery and continue using learning hubs to supplement academic services for students, particularly those that have struggled with literacy and mathematics.

The district plans to administer diagnostic Measures of Academic Progress tests once classrooms reopen to better understand where students are academically, and at one point Pollio said JCPS staff may need to "knock on doors" to encourage students to enroll in summer programming this year.

"I think the plan is wonderful, but if we don't identify the students who most need those services, then it's for naught," said board member Corrie Shull, who represents District 6.

The district currently partners with Evolve502 to operate community learning hubs during remote learning. JCPS and Evolve502 are developing a list of community partners who may help open new learning spaces throughout Jefferson County, Pollio said.

"I think there is a desire to even open community hubs in our schools, especially in our high needs communities," he said. "So if there is no partner that is willing to step up, we can then open up a community hub in our school to provide reading and math for kids and reengagement."

Pollio, who reiterated Tuesday that the district will need to provide summer learning programs for about 30,000 students in the future, said JCPS could get 5,000 students in learning hubs this summer.

"We, through CARES funding, will provide everything that is legal for us to provide so that pods can be successful, whether that's teaching, tutoring, supplies that they may need, digital devices," Pollio said.

Pollio said the district is also exploring the possibility of amending the 2021-22 school calendar to give more academic time for students.

"If we are going to improve outcomes for kids, especially students of color, we've got to give more time for learning," he said. "I know that sounds simple, but we're not going to get it done in 175 school days in six hours, especially with our attendance crisis across all groups of students across this country."

"We need to add days. We need to add hours. We need to add seconds," Chief Equity Officer John Marshall said. "We need to have critical conversations about what it takes to extend the day, and as we extend the day, we need to make the day more racially equitable." 

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