Jefferson County Public Schools is planning to expand Jefferson County High School, the district’s fully online high school. Officials said the pandemic has shown that some students thrive in the virtual setting.
“Some of our students have done very well in this model in grades six through 12,” JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio said at the Jefferson County Board of Education meeting Tuesday night. “If a family feels that’s what they want, we want to be able to provide that type of learning for them.”
Pollio said the district hoped to rebrand the school with a new name, increase course offerings, and expand the school to include grades six through eight by the fall.
Jefferson County High School, which opened in the mid 1980s, has about 1,000 students in grades nine through 12 and 22 teachers.
Pollio said the school could be an option for students who are hospitalized or have serious health issues, students who need to work or have family responsibilities, or students who prefer the virtual learning environment.
Finally, he said the virtual school could be an option in the 2021-2022 school year for students whose families don’t feel comfortable sending them for in-person classes given the ongoing pandemic. State lawmakers did not allow districts to continue offering the hybrid learning model after the end of the 2020-2021 school year.
Currently, about 40 percent of JCPS students are still learning fully remotely. COVID-19 vaccinations are still not available for children under the age of 16 — a point of concern for many families who are staying remote.
Board members welcomed the proposal to expand Jefferson County High School.
“I am so thrilled that we’re going to provide a virtual option for families. I think this has been really a kind of an evolution that we’ve gone through to reach this point where we can provide a quality virtual option,” District 5 board member Linda Duncan said.
Like most school districts across the country, JCPS moved instruction online almost overnight in response to the coronavirus pandemic last March. Teachers and administrators have spent more than a year using a host of new remote learning tools.
Pollio said he is working with the Jefferson County Teachers Association, the teachers’ union, to develop the schedules and staffing needed for the expansion. He said some positions could be a good fit for teachers who, because of the pandemic, are not comfortable returning to the in-person setting in the fall.
The number of new teaching positions will depend on the number of students interested in enrolling, according to a district spokesperson.
Jefferson County High School students will not be able to participate in athletics, according to Pollio. That concerned some board members.
“I think we have to think about this a little bit before we say, well, that’s just not an option,” Duncan said.
Pollio said he would bring board members more details about the planned expansion in coming weeks.