LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- A Jefferson County Board of Education member said he wants to change the district's COVID-19 masking policy.
Board member James Craig, who represents District 3, said he will bring up the masking policy at Tuesday's board meeting, but whether three others join him in that effort remains unclear.
Board members Linda Duncan and Sarah Cole McIntosh say they support making masks optional at JCPS. At least four board members must vote to amend board agendas, and Tuesday's work session does not include the district's COVID-19 policies.
Others contacted by WDRB News on Friday were either noncommittal or did not return messages seeking comment.
Craig said he will make a motion for the board to consider masking be encouraged, rather than required, when U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention community level data, which takes into account COVID-19 caseloads, hospitalizations and deaths, shows the county's coronavirus community transmission is high.
To put it mildly, this is frustrating. A quick 🧵Less than 2% of school districts across the country are following CDC masking guidance. No school district between San Diego and Phildaelphia is doing so, leaving JCPS alone on an island in the midwest and southeast. https://t.co/j409Z3l7hy— James Craig (@JamesDeVille) August 11, 2022
"We're the only school district in the southeast. We're the only school district in the Midwest that is requiring masking," Craig said Thursday. "We're the only school district in the state of Kentucky that is requiring universal masking, and we're hearing loudly, we're hearing clearly from folks inside of the city of Louisville that the mandate is not popular."
The district's current COVID-19 mask policy, unanimously approved by the board July 19, requires masks to be worn when CDC data displays Jefferson County in the "red" category. Masks are optional when the county is in the "yellow" or "green."
Jefferson County's community transmission rate moved to the "red" category two weeks before the first week of school. Masks continue to be required inside JCPS buses and facilities next week, and Kentucky's largest school district is one of the only large school systems with mask mandates in place, according to data aggregator Burbio.
"We have obligations above and beyond public sentiment sometimes, but I'm not convinced that we're going to stop the spread of COVID within the city of Louisville if nobody else in the city of Louisville is doing what we are requiring," Craig said.
JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio has said previously the district's recommendation is based off CDC guidance.
The CDC updated its guidance Thursday, dropping quarantine and screening recommendations. There was no change to its masking guidance, which recommends masks when community transmission is high.
"What frustrates me is that we are alone on an island in the United States and implementing the CDC guidance," Craig said. "What does the CDC have to say to Chicago, to Atlanta to Detroit, other communities that have opted not to follow this guidance? We are alone between the city of San Diego and the city of Philadelphia on a map. We need a better way to approach this new stage of the pandemic."
McIntosh, who represents District 7, said she is in favor of leaving the decision to families.
"The vaccine is available for all ages and our thinking needs to reflect the new information and context," McIntosh told WDRB News in an email Thursday. "Student outcomes have to be a priority, and what we are seeing from data and hearing from teachers is that the masks are inhibitive of instruction and learning."
Board member Linda Duncan, who represents District 5, said making masks recommended, not required, is "appropriate." Only a few of her constituents have said they support the district's mandatory masking policy compared to hundreds of others in her district who believe masks should be optional, she said.
In fact, she said she had wanted to make such a motion at the board's Aug. 2 meeting. Craig suggested she wait until the results of the Jefferson County Teachers Association's poll on the subject completed, she said.
"I think we do need to bring this up at our next meeting, and I'm hoping that we can," Duncan said Friday. "If it's on the agenda, we can go from there. If it's not on the agenda, then we can amend the agenda to include that discussion."
An initial JCTA poll that drew more than 2,600 respondents found 56.8% opposed or strongly opposed the district's masking policy while 36.4% supported or strongly supported it and another 6.8% were indifferent.
A second more secure survey had 3,406 respondents with 52% opposed or strongly opposed to the district's masking policy, 38% supported or strongly supported it and 10% were indifferent, according to results shared Friday by JCTA President Brent McKim.
"I wasn't surprised, and I do think that their voice is important," Duncan said. "But also for me, the issue is around how do we enforce a mandate that we don't have consequences for or we that we are ambivalent about consequences for and inconsistent, probably, across the district."
Diane Porter, the board's chairwoman who represents District 1, said she is considering feedback from her constituents about the district's masking policy.
"The people in District 1 are not opposed to the mask, and when I am out and about I see people wearing masks," Porter said. "... I have checked with some schools. I won't say which schools, but I have covered elementary, middle and high schools, so I have feedback from those three different levels."
Board member Chris Kolb, who represents District 2, declined to comment on the push to change the JCPS masking policy at Tuesday's board meeting.
"The item isn't on the agenda," he said in a message to WDRB News. "I don't want to discuss a pure hypothetical."
Board members Corrie Shull, the board's vice chairman who represents District 6, and Joe Marshall, who represents District 4, did not return messages seeking comment Friday.
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