Jefferson County Public School superintendent Marty Pollio announced details Friday on the 100,000-student district’s plan for remote instruction while schools are closed to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
Remote instruction, or nontraditional instruction (NTI), begins officially Apr. 7, and will run until at least Apr. 20. For students who have Internet access and a device, instruction will be offered online primarily through Google Classroom. Google Classroom is a web platform where teachers and students can post and grade assignments and instructional material, and message back and forth with students.
For students who do not have access to the Internet or a device, the district is offering paper packets of materials for each grade level. These are available at the dozens of meal sites around the county, where families are already going for free breakfasts and lunches.
Meal sites have been offering service each weekday. But starting Monday, Mar. 30, they will go down to three days a week to reduce contact between staff and families. Sites will be open Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. On Monday and Wednesday, students can take extra meals to get through the off days in between.
A spokesman for the district, Mark Hebert, said teachers would not be collecting the paper copies from students until in-person classes resume. Any feedback for students using paper copies, he said, would be given on the phone, or through email or online if that’s a possibility for families.
“It’s going to be a challenge,” Pollio said. “Nothing replaces face-to-face instruction.”
But he said the district will do it’s best under the circumstances. One major guiding principal for NTI, Pollio said, is flexibility for families and teachers.
“This is not necessarily going to be the 7:40 to 2:20 or the 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. type of school,” he said. “Students can log on or do the work at various times throughout the day, and the same with our teachers.”
Students without Internet or devices
One major challenge for the district will be engaging students who do not have Internet access or a device. More than 60,000 students in the district face economic hardship, and many do not have a computer or reliable internet access.
“We have this divide,” Pollio said. “And it’s really around this opportunity gap, which was my major concern in taking on NTI.”
The district has collected 25,000 Chromebooks from schools around the district to redistribute to students who need them. Chief Information Officer Kermit Belcher said the district is sending emails to families who are on free or reduced-price lunch with information on how to request a Chromebook. Families can receive one per household. The district is sending them through the mail.
While many families may not have a computer, Belcher said many do have access to a smartphone with email. He said the district is also reaching out by phone to some families who do not have email, and that considerations are being made for English Language Learners (ELL) and students and students with disabilities.
If more Chromebooks are requested than are available, the district will use a lottery system.
When it comes to reliable Wi-Fi, Pollio said the district is still in talks with Louisville Metro government and Internet providers. Spectrum is offering free Wi-Fi for 60 days to households with school-aged children.
Another “huge challenge,” Pollio acknowledged, is providing special education to students with individualized education plans (IEPs). The district has about 13,000 students receiving special education.
“There is no perfect plan for replacing the resources a child has at the school and in the classroom,” he said. But he said the district is going to try to provide as much as it can virtually, including services like occupational therapy and speech therapy.
Pollio said JCPS is buying 6,000 internet hot spots to distribute to special education students who do not have home Wi-Fi.
Attendance and students in need
Under state guidance, Pollio said, students will be counted present if they interact with their teacher once a week. That could be a message, a phone call, or turning in an assignment.
“But we want to far exceed once a week,” Pollio said, especially for students who teachers know need extra support, or who receive additional services at school.
Pollio said he has a “high, high level of concern” for the 30,000 students who are already chronically absent and for students who receive extra services at school, like special education, mental health care, or help learning English.
“When we return, we know we’re going to have to make significant changes to meet those needs,” he said.
A spokeswoman for the district said non-teaching staff will still be paid while schools are closed. That includes staff whose usually jobs can’t be done from home, like maintenance and bus drivers.
“We have figured out ways for people to work still and not be in their traditional work place,” spokeswoman Renee Murphy said.