LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- For the first time in more than a year, Jefferson County Public Schools will welcome students and teachers back to classrooms Wednesday as in-person instruction begins for the district’s youngest learners.
Students in kindergarten through second grade who have last names starting with A-K will be back inside classrooms Wednesday if their families chose the district’s in-person learning option. JCPS expects about 64% of students will return to schools based on the results of an ongoing survey.
“I can’t wait until Wednesday to see our students,” JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio said early Monday during an interview with WDRB News.
Students in the L-Z group of students in kindergarten through fifth grade will return for classes Thursday and Friday as part of the district’s hybrid schedule of classes. Elementary students who get special education services will be back in schools five days per week.
Middle and high schools will resume in-person learning on a hybrid schedule immediately after Spring Break on April 5.
The shift in schedule has allowed JCPS to consolidate its routes and cover them with nearly 800 drivers while also cutting bus capacities.
Phones for the district’s 502-485-RIDE hotline rang frequently early Monday. Ken Stites, transportation specialist for JCPS, said the district’s call center fielded some 50 phone calls in a few hours as families try to find out which buses their children will need to take and where and when they’ll need to wait for their rides when in-person instruction resumes this week.
“They may have not been contacted yet by their school or maybe they've changed schools and so this is all new information for them,” Stites said. “There have been some calls from parents who are asking, ‘Which day do I come?’ or they're asking for Wednesday and then when we look up their names and addresses, we’re like, ‘OK, be sure you don't come until next Monday.’”
Navigating the rest of the 2020-21 school year amid the COVID-19 pandemic will pose new challenges, mainly in adhering to public health guidance on school operations.
But more change could be coming if Jefferson County’s COVID-19 incidence rate continues to fall.
As of Sunday, the county reported a seven-day average of 11.7 new daily coronavirus cases per 100,000 residents. That’s nearly in the state’s second-lowest category for COVID-19 community spread at between one and 10 new daily cases per 100,000 residents.
Jefferson County had been in the state’s “red zone” for coronavirus spread for months, and officials have cited the state’s COVID-19 vaccination effort as a primary factor in caseload declines throughout Kentucky.
Pollio, who originally recommended that the Jefferson County Board of Education allow elementary students back for instruction five days per week, said he could bring a similar recommendation back to the board if local COVID-19 cases continue to fall or U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines change.
Based on CDC guidance, Jefferson County’s COVID-19 weekly case total would put it in the “substantial transmission” category, in which the agency recommends students learn on hybrid schedules and maintain 6 feet of social distancing inside schools.
The Jefferson County Board of Education voted 4-3 on a plan that shifted elementary students into a hybrid schedule as part of the district’s phased reopening plan.
“I would bring a recommendation to our board for that particular change because there's no doubt I want to our kids in five days a week,” Pollio said.
If approved, Stites said the district can handle the uptick in transportation demand.
“Because we're so spread out throughout the county because of all the choice that students have when they attend school in Jefferson County, many of our routes are already overlapping those areas,” he said.
Parents can call 502-485-RIDE for information about their child's bus number and help with identifying the bus stops closest to their home.
Parents can also enter their home address to find bus numbers, bus stops and pickup times on the JCPS website under the "Bus Finder" option.
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