LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Exactly when Jefferson County Public Schools Superintendent Marty Pollio will recommend reopening classrooms in Kentucky’s largest school district will depend on how many COVID-19 vaccine boosters can be secured for teachers and staff, he told reporters Friday.
JCPS elementary school teachers and staff who registered for COVID-19 vaccinations received their initial doses by Thursday at Louisville Metro’s Broadbent Arena drive-thru site, with the district’s middle and high school personnel slated to begin their vaccination schedules next week, Pollio said.
Central office staff who do not work inside schools will get their first vaccine doses afterward, and Pollio said that’s when he is slated for his initial COVID-19 vaccination.
About 6,600 JCPS teachers and staff have already received their first COVID-19 vaccine shots, and more than 13,000 district employees have signed up for vaccinations.
Classrooms at JCPS have been closed since mid-March, but Pollio and others have seen COVID-19 vaccinations for teachers and staff as a way to resume in-person instruction. About 60% of JCPS families are expected to send their children back to schools once they reopen based on districtwide survey results.
“We have a real, strong chance of coming back to school, and we’re really proud of that and look forward to bringing that plan to our board members over the next couple of weeks,” he said.
The Jefferson County Board of Education will ultimately decide whether and when district classrooms can reopen for in-person instruction, and Pollio said he will offer his recommendation either at the board’s Feb. 16 meeting or at a special meeting.
The school board is scheduled to talk Tuesday with state and local health officials about the COVID-19 pandemic, vaccinations and other issues.
The exact timing of his recommended start date will depend on how many booster vaccine doses are allotted for JCPS, Pollio said. District staff are expected to begin getting their vaccine boosters Feb. 19, he said.
“Once we know that we are getting that from the federal government in collaboration with our health department, then we can lay out that plan,” he said.
Details of how the district will need to operate if classrooms reopen are also unknown. Gov. Andy Beshear said last week that he will relax the state’s color-coded guidance for school operations based on local COVID-19 transmission data, a point Pollio noted Friday.
“We’re anxiously awaiting what those will be,” he said, adding that he may recommend in-person learning at elementary schools five days a week while middle and high schools operate on hybrid schedules.
One JCPS board member has raised doubts about whether the district can safely reopen classrooms during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Chris Kolb, the board’s vice chairperson who represents District 2, said in a post on his campaign website that reopening schools would be problematic and lead to more COVID-19 cases and deaths based on Jefferson County’s persistently high incidence and testing positivity rates.
Kolb was one of two school board members to vote against resuming winter sports competition at JCPS.
“The current evidence and data, however, lead me to the conclusion that it is simply not safe, wise, or responsible to return to competitive winter sports or in-person instruction until everyone in the community has had the opportunity to be vaccinated, until the positive test rate is five percent or less for two weeks, or until Jefferson County is in the “orange” for two weeks and cases in Louisville are steady or declining,” Kolb said in the post.
For Pollio, disagreements at the school board level are similar to the varied COVID-19 views locally and nationwide. Board members, he said, are concerned about the “safety and health of our students and staff.”
“These aren’t easy decisions to make,” he said. “… I know they’ll make the best decision for our kids at that point, and that’s what they’re all committed to doing.”
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