Education

The Jefferson County Board of Education has approved new COVID-19 protocols for the upcoming school year, including a shortened COVID isolation period. 

The board voted unanimously Tuesday night in favor of the new health guidelines, which cut the COVID isolation period in half from 10 days to five. On day six, people can come back to school as long as they don’t have symptoms and wear a mask for another five days. That policy is in line with guidance from the CDC and Kentucky Department of Public Health.

The board’s decision to embrace the shortened isolation is a departure from its previous stance. In a split vote in January, members rejected moving to the five-day isolation, saying they felt it was safer to stick with the longer period at the time. 

Masking rules will be largely similar to the spring of last school year. Masks will only be required if the county is in the CDC’s high-risk or red category for “community levels.” That’s a CDC metric based on a county’s case numbers and available hospital beds. When the county is in the low (green) and medium (yellow) risk zone, masks will be optional.

“I think we have to step up when the CDC says this is the guidance for schools for safety,” Jefferson County Public Schools Superintendent Marty Pollio told the board.

The district will continue many of the other same health measures that were in effect last year, including contact tracing, maintaining a nurse for each school, and continuing to provide masks and other PPE for students and staff who request it.

Some of the most important changes for the 2022-2023 school year relate to testing. 

While tests will still be available on site for students and staff who are exposed or start showing symptoms, the district is ending widespread testing for asymptomatic people. That’s because federal and grant funds for testing are all used up.

“We just can’t do it in huge numbers like we’ve done over the past year,” Pollio told the board. 

It means JCPS will discontinue most of the 50 drive-through testing sites it ran for staff, students and families in 2021 and 2022. However, Pollio said the district will provide take-home tests for students who want to continue regular testing.

The limited number of tests means some other policy changes. Students will no longer have to undergo weekly testing in order to participate in sports and extracurriculars, a program known as “test-to-play.” Though Pollio said it may be required for high-contact indoor winter sports, such as wrestling or volleyball.

The district is also ending its “vaccine or test” mandate. Unvaccinated employees won’t have to undergo regular COVID-19 testing to keep their positions.

“Test-to-stay,” however, continues. That policy allows students and staff who have been exposed to keep coming to school, as long as they participate in daily testing for a period of seven days. Students take a rapid test at a district site or through their own health care provider, and if it’s negative, they can come to school in the morning.

The board signed off on the changes three weeks ahead of the 2022-2023 school year, during which health officials are anticipating a surge of omicron sub-variants.

“The prediction is that fall is going to be pretty intense with COVID,” JCPS Health Manager Eva Stone said.

Cases and hospitalizations are already starting to rise in Kentucky due to the super-contagious omicron BA.5 variant.

Jess Clark is WFPL's Education and Learning Reporter.