Jefferson County Public Schools officials presented details during Tuesday night’s school board meeting on a plan to return to the classroom as early as the third week of March. But those plans did not reflect the latest guidance from the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The CDC released guidance on Friday saying distancing of six feet or more is required for schools in communities with “high transmission” or “substantial transmission,” and that schools should reduce the number of students in the building to achieve the appropriate spacing. Jefferson County is considered a high-transmission community, according to the CDC.
Yet during the meeting, JCPS staff presented details about the district’s existing plan, which school leaders have conceded will not allow for the six-foot spacing in all classrooms, especially in some elementary schools where upwards of 70% of students are anticipated to choose the in-person option.
The new CDC guidance also says middle and high schools in high-transmission communities should stick to virtual instruction “unless they can strictly implement all mitigation strategies.” Under JCPS’ plan, middle and high schools would operate in-person on a rotating A/B schedule. This would allow for extra space between students, but the JCPS plan stops short of requiring a full six feet.
JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio said the plan follows the existing guidance from the Kentucky Department of Education, and that changes could come if the state updates its recommendations based on the new CDC document.
“We do expect to have more guidance based on the most recent CDC guidance that was issued late Friday afternoon,” Pollio said.
Louisville Metro Public Health Director Dr. Sarah Moyer, who joined the meeting briefly, did not address the possible discrepancy over the six-foot requirement given the county’s high transmission status.
Instead, she said the new CDC guidelines “fit in with what everything that JCPS has been planning for the last year, and all the mitigation strategies that they have in place.”
Moyer recommended a return to school two weeks ago, saying Louisville’s private schools had shown the classroom can be safe with transmission controlling strategies in place, even with the county in the “deep red.”
Pollio said JCPS is eyeing a reopening date for elementary schools in the third week of March. The county’s infection rate and positivity rate are on the decline, but they would have to fall drastically by then for JCPS’ plan to match up with the new CDC guidelines.
Jefferson County had 267 cases per 100,000 people over the last 7-day period measured by the CDC. To reach “moderate transmission,” which would allow for distancing of less than six feet, that metric would have to fall below 49 cases per 100,000 people. The testing positivity rate would also have to drop below 8%. The CDC currently has Jefferson County’s positivity rate over 10%.
District 2 board member Chris Kolb requested the board schedule a meeting to discuss the new CDC guidelines in depth with Moyer.
JCPS is also out of sync with the CDC’s new guidance on sports. The CDC says sports and extracurriculars in high-transmission communities should be “virtual only.” But the district currently allows in-person practices and competitions for indoor winter sports, including wrestling and basketball.
Kolb, who was in the minority when he voted against allowing sports in January, requested Pollio bring a recommendation to the board to put JCPS in compliance with the new CDC guidelines.
“They cannot really be more clear that they expect us districts that are in our category of transmission to shut down sports,” Kolb said.
The board meets Thursday at 6 p.m. for a virtual town hall on the district’s YouTube page. A date for the vote on the reopening is not yet set.