JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio 01-10-22.jpg

JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio speaks during a news conference on nontraditional instruction at the district Jan. 10, 2022.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Jefferson County Public Schools Superintendent Marty Pollio hopes the expected 11-day break from in-person learning will give staff who have contracted or been exposed to COVID-19 enough time to complete their quarantines and report back to work.

Staffing shortages during the last escalation of COVID-19 cases, particularly the rising number of classrooms left without coverage from substitute teachers, prompted Pollio to call off classes Monday and move JCPS to remote learning Tuesday through Friday. JCPS made that call Sunday evening after canceling classes for a day and a half last week because of snow.

Nearly 600 employees had contracted COVID-19 and nearly 100 more were in quarantine as of 10 a.m. Monday, according to JCPS data.

Having schools with more than a dozen uncovered classrooms as the numbers of available substitute teachers and administrators with teaching credentials shrink "becomes untenable," Pollio said during a news conference Monday.

"We are trying to get every possible day of in-person instruction that we have," he said. "… We felt like it was possible we would have the (staffing) numbers, but we were going to have to make that final decision on Sunday. The numbers continued to increase dramatically as Sunday went along, and we were forced to make that call."

The move to remote learning has JCPS families making adjustments to their routines this week.

Portland Elementary School parent Brian Crutcher said he expected the district's decision because of the rapid escalation in local COVID-19 cases and because of the district's recent push to prepare for nontraditional instruction.

"I'm hoping that this eventually gets resolved, like eventually we get the COVID down enough to where she stays in school and things just get back to normal because it's been a nightmare," he said.

"I think it's a good idea," said Sierra Webb, another Portland Elementary parent. "I'd rather have my child home and safe than risk going to school and getting sick."

Southern High School teacher Emilie McKiernan Blanton applauded the decision to hold classes remotely this week as staffing challenges worsened after the holidays.

One unfilled teaching absence means about five other teachers need to give up their planning periods to cover that particular classroom throughout the school day, she said.

"Most days we were five or six people without subs, which is in the range of 25 to 30 planning periods they are giving up in order to staff those rooms," Blanton said.

Teachers at Southern High get two planning periods during the day. The escalating numbers of employees in quarantine plus a shrinking pool of substitutes means some Southern teachers need to give up both of their daily planning periods to staff classrooms, she said.

"I always at least give up one just so that we can try to keep our building staffed as appropriately as possible, but it does create strains," Blanton said, noting that teachers must handle responsibilities like grading and lesson plans after hours if they give up their planning periods.

"It's also a strain on us physically," she said. "That's the time when you could run to the bathroom or grab a bite to eat because you can't eat while your kids are in the classroom because you have to take your mask off."

Pollio said he hoped classrooms would reopen by Jan. 18, the day after the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday. The district will have six more remote learning days to use during the rest of the 2021-22 school year if the district follows that anticipated schedule.

JCPS will provide curbside meals for families from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at several schools Tuesday and Thursday during nontraditional instruction. Extracurricular activities at JCPS will continue during nontraditional instruction "as long as COVID safety measures are followed and we have the appropriate staffing," Pollio said.

The district has been preparing for the move to remote learning. Pollio said JCPS would continue those preparations Monday as principals and other school administrators finish their plans for nontraditional instruction this week.

"The vast majority" of JCPS students have what they need for remote learning, he said.

"It gives the opportunity to get out final schedules, and if students have something that they need, they can reach out to their schools and get it," Pollio said of Monday's preparations.

Blanton said all but new teachers have experience with nontraditional instruction. Many JCPS principals asked educators to prepare their Google classrooms after returning from the holidays in case the district moved to remote learning, she said.

"We can handle just about anything at this point," Blanton said of the district's nontraditional instruction preparations. "We're just trying to keep everybody as safe and secure as possible."

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