This story has been updated.
Jefferson County Public Schools will not begin the phased-in return to the classroom previously planned for October 22.
“Like many of you, there is nothing we want more than to have students and staff back in our school buildings. But we won’t do that until we know it is safe for our students, their families and our employees,” a letter from the communications office reads.
JCPS had hoped to phase in students to in-person classes beginning with elementary schools this month. But, the district said after reviewing trends in coronavirus cases, officials do not believe it is possible yet to return safely.
“When we see a significant reduction in the number of cases, we will consult local and state health officials and make a determination about when we can safely return to in-person instruction,” the letter reads.
Jefferson County is listed as orange, and nearing red on the state’s coronavirus dashboard, with about 24 cases per 100,000 people, indicating “accelerated” spread. State health and education officials recommend only moving to in-person classes if a county is green or yellow.
“On top of that we have seen how this pandemic is impacting minority populations at a larger percentage and a larger rate. And that’s a real concern for us as a school district when the majority of our students are students of color,” superintendent Marty Pollio said during a press conference Friday.
Pollio said he’s concerned bringing students back to the classroom could increase spread to the larger community, noting that infections have risen sharply across the state since many districts returned to in-person classes on Sept. 28.
“There’s been a corresponding increase,” Pollio said.
In addition, he said about third of JCPS teachers are considered high-risk for complications of the virus. More than 2,100 staff members have filed for accommodations because they are considered high risk, including 1,400 teachers. That could create staffing challenges if the district tried to return.
Pollio said he still has hope that students will be able to return to the classroom this school year.
“I have faith that we’ll be back,” Pollio said.
Jefferson County Board of Education member Chris Brady was not so optimistic.
“I think that we should really call it,” Brady said. “Let parents know that, you know, we probably won’t be coming back for the rest of the calendar year and reevaluate that in January.”
He said he thinks this will help families better plan.
The school board will hear more details about a possible return at its meeting next Tuesday, Oct. 20. For now, schools will continue in nontraditional instruction, or NTI.