At a “virtual town hall” on Jefferson County Public Schools’ still-developing reopening plan, JCPS superintendent Marty Pollio said the district doesn’t know yet whether it will have in-person classes. But if it does, students will have the option to attend school fully online.
“All parents and families will have an option of a virtual academy that will be 100% virtual from their home,” he said.
Pollio said the virtual academy would be “synchronous,” meaning students will log on during the start time of school, and be on the computer for most of the duration of a traditional school day. JCPS Chief Academic Officer Carmen Coleman said the virtual academy would be “more robust” than instruction offered during nontraditional instruction (NTI) this past spring.
If the district does have in-person classes, Pollio said parents would have a choice between in-person and virtual. He said parents would be asked to commit to one type of instruction for at least half a semester, and possibly a whole one.
“We want to be flexible with families and give them options to make changes,” he said. “But we will be asking for a certain commitment for a period of time so that we can make those staffing and transportation decisions.”
The district is also planning to move the start of school back two weeks, from Aug. 12 to Aug. 25. Staff will report on Aug. 10, as previously planned. Pollio said that will give the district extra time to “follow the data” on how COVID-19 is progressing in the community, get devices to students and train staff.
Pollio said he wants “nothing more” than to have in-student instruction, but, “we are not at that point where we can make that decision at this time.”
“I know everyone wants a decision as quickly as possible, and we want to do that,” he said. “But we also know the right decision is so important.”
Other than the delayed start and announcement of a fully online option, JCPS staff had little new information to offer the more than 6,000 viewers who watched the meeting live on the district’s YouTube channel on Monday evening.
According to JCPS spokeswoman Renee Murphy, JCPS received at least 700 questions by text. The district also collected questions submitted through social media. A handful of pre-selected audience members asked questions live as well.
Staff were able to answer many questions by citing guidance released at the end of June by the Kentucky Department of Education on mask requirements and social distancing.
But when it came to the specifics of how JCPS planned to implement the state guidance for in-person classes, there were few answers.
“How will you keep kids socially distanced in the classroom?” one parent wanted to know.
Chief Operating Officer Chris Perkins said schools would try to spread desks 6 feet apart if they could.
Another parent asked whether teachers will change classrooms, or students will change classrooms.
JCPS Chief Academic Officer Carmen Coleman said those decisions have not been finalized yet.
Another wanted to know about students with moderate or severe disabilities who can’t wear masks. Their teachers work closely with them. How will those students and teachers be kept safe?
Officials did not have an answer.
Pollio has said the district will release a plan to the public by the end of the month. Key to that plan are the results of a teacher and staff survey on what type of instruction they would prefer. The Kentucky State School Boards Association has warned that some teachers plan to quit or retire if they are asked to return for in-person classes.
The results of that survey will be reported during next Tuesday’s board meeting. That’s also when the board will vote on the calendar change.