Educators and staff across Jefferson County Public Schools are preparing to welcome students back to the classroom on August 11. Classrooms will be back at full capacity, five days a week, for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic first hit Kentucky in March 2020.
McFerran Preparatory Academy third grade teacher Kearra Holloway said some of her students have been out of the classroom for more than a year.
“I’m just excited to just rebuild those relationships and make those connections with these students who haven’t had a sense of normalcy or consistency in their life,” she said.
While JCPS won’t be using a hybrid model this fall, schools will be using a number of other health measures to try to prevent infections as the coronavirus pandemic drags on. The highly contagious delta variant of COVID-19 is causing a new surge of cases in Louisville and across the state.
The Jefferson County Board of Education voted last week to require all students, staff and visitors age two and older to wear a mask while indoors on JCPS property and on school buses. This is in line with the newest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state health and education officials. People can apply for exemptions if they have a medical condition that prevents them from wearing a mask.
Vaccination And Testing
JCPS officials continue to encourage all staff and students 12 and older to get the COVID-19 vaccine. The district is hosting dozens of free vaccination clinics this week at the following locations and times.
JCPS officials say they don’t know how many of their employees are vaccinated. Last year around 70% of employees signed up for the “phase 1b” vaccine rollout for school staff in January and February. The district has not surveyed staff on their vaccination status since then. Staff are encouraged, but not required, to get vaccinated.
Schools will offer weekly COVID-19 testing to students to screen for asymptomatic cases.
“That’s important because sometimes families just want that testing done, and also if there are cases of people not having symptoms, then we can detect that in their school and respond quickly,” JCPS Health Services Manager Eva Stone said at a press conference Tuesday afternoon.
Stone said the district would also continue to provide drive-through COVID-19 testing for students and staff at several locations.
Following CDC and state guidance, JCPS is recommending schools keep at least three feet of space between students, “to the greatest extent practicable.”
Stone said the district would not make the three-foot rule mandatory because it would be difficult to achieve in some classrooms and schools.
“The challenge for some places is going to be space,” she said.
Adults in buildings should give each other an even wider berth. The district recommends six feet of space from adult to adult and from adult to student.
JCPS also recommends schools use assigned seating in classrooms and the cafeteria to make contact tracing easier.
Rules for Quarantine
Stone said masking, distancing, vaccination, cleaning and recent upgrades to HVAC systems are meant to create a “layered” approach to avoid infection.
“The intention is to help prevent entire classrooms from having to be quarantined at a time.” Stone said.
However, the district anticipates some infections. When a student or staff member tests positive, Stone said, the school, the district, and Louisville Metro health department will use contact tracing to find out who needs to be quarantined.
Students may have to quarantine if they aren’t vaccinated and were within three feet of the infected person for a cumulative 15 minutes or longer, even if they were wearing a mask.
Adults may have to quarantine if they aren’t vaccinated and were within six feet of an infected person for a cumulative 15 minutes or longer, even if they were wearing a mask.
Vaccinated people do not need to quarantine if they do not experience symptoms.
Stone said the district or school will alert families if someone in their child’s class tests positive for COVID-19, and that the district will continue to post cases and data on JCPS’ COVID-19 dashboard.
Fully Remote Option
For families who want to keep their children at home, JCPS staff say registration is still open for all grade levels for the Pathfinder School of Innovation. Grades 6-12 can register here, and grades K-5 can register here. The deadline to register is Wednesday, August 4. But JCPS spokesperson Renee Murphy said the deadline is “loose,” and that students could still be accepted if they apply late.
As of Monday, about 500 elementary school students had been registered for the online school, according to Murphy. About 260 middle and high school students had registered as of early June.
Students who enroll in Pathfinder will no longer be enrolled at their current brick-and-mortar school.