Education

Jefferson County Public Schools Superintendent Marty Pollio says the district will be making decisions about going into remote learning on a “day-to-day” basis until the end of the omicron surge. It means families will continue to have less than a day’s notice ahead of pivots to remote instruction.

JCPS students returned to school buildings Monday after being out of the classroom since Jan. 10, when COVID-related staffing shortages drove the district into remote learning. While students are back for now, the staffing situation remains unstable. The omicron surge continues to leave hundreds of school employees out sick or quarantined each day.

Pollio said central office staff had to “scramble” to find fill-ins for sick teachers Monday.

“And I know schools are still challenged to make this work,” Pollio said during a press conference.

Despite the all-time highs for statewide COVID-19 infection rates, school districts do not have the same flexibility they had in earlier waves to pivot to remote learning. The GOP-led state legislature limited districts to 10 non-traditional instruction, or NTI, days for the 2021-2022 school year. JCPS used eight of them in the last two weeks. 

That leaves the district two NTI days for the remainder of the school year. JCPS also has 10 “remote learning days” per school. “Remote learning days” are different from NTI—they allow a school, grade or group of students to go into virtual instruction, but not the entire district.

Pollio said district officials will meet each afternoon to review the COVID data for each school and decide whether a group of schools or grade levels need to go into remote learning the next day.

The superintendent said it’s more likely he will send a grade level into remote instruction, such as all elementary schools, or all high schools, rather than use the days school by school.

“What we do not want to get into is where we are publishing a list of ‘Here are the 60 schools that are out, and here are the 90 schools that are in’,” he said, noting it would be a major communication challenge for a district of 97,000 students and 155 schools.

Pollio said the district would be more likely to use the remote learning days for middle schools and high schools, rather than elementary schools. Middle and high schools tend to have more challenging staffing situations, he said.

“We also have seen that the older the students, the more successful they are at virtual learning without having to have that parent sit right there with them the entire time,” he said.

But, he added, nothing is off the table.

If districts can’t continue in-person learning but run out of remote learning days and NTI days, Pollio said they will have to cancel school and tack school days onto the end of the semester to reach the instructional hours required by state law.

Jess Clark is WFPL's Education and Learning Reporter.