Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) superintendent Marty Pollio has announced he wants to begin the 2020-2021 school year in remote instruction. Under Pollio’s plan, students wouldn’t return to the classroom until at least October.
“I will always err on the side of student and staff safety,” Pollio said during a press conference Thursday. “I’m just right now not willing to expose our students and staff to COVID-19, and all the things that may come with that, including long-term risks. And most importantly, I’m unwilling to have someone risk losing their life.”
Pollio’s decision comes as coronavirus cases are on the rise in Kentucky, and across the nation. If Pollio’s plan is approved by the Jefferson County Board of Education at its meeting Tuesday, JCPS will join many other large urban school districts in foregoing in-person instruction. School systems in Nashville, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Houston and other large cities, have all opted for remote learning.
Under the plan, students would start remote classes on Aug. 25, and spend the first six weeks in nontraditional instruction (NTI) — the state’s term for remote learning. Pollio said the district would evaluate in September whether students could return for in-person classes.
Pollio said he did not have a specific data point or metric that would inform a decision to return to in-person instruction, but it would depend on the number of coronavirus cases.
“We do need to see declining numbers,” he said. “We will partner with our state and health communities, officials, to make sure that numbers are on the decline.”
When it comes to what instruction would look like, officials said this coming year’s NTI would be “more robust” that what was offered in the spring.
“We know that we can do more,” JCPS Chief Academic Officer Carmen Coleman said.
Coleman said “NTI 2.0” will have more live and recorded instruction, “much like a traditional in-person classroom experience.” She said there would also be more opportunities for interaction with classmates and teachers, and more guided coursework. Parents can expect more frequent communication with their school and teachers, she said. Pollio said the district would work to standardize the expectation for student-teacher engagement.
Participation would be recorded daily, rather than weekly, as was the case in the spring.
However “it is not our intent to have students in front of a computer for six hours a day,” Coleman added.
A lack of devices and Internet connectivity was a major issue for many students during NTI in the spring. Pollio said for the fall, JCPS will make sure every student has a device. Using funds from the CARES Act package, the district is purchasing 30,000 Chromebooks to add to its existing 40,000. Additionally, JCPS is buying 11,000 wifi hotspots. But connectivity will remain a challenge, Pollio said.
“We’re gonna ask the community to support us with this,” he said.
Another major challenge in the spring was providing special education services. Pollio said that while most students will learn remotely, some special education services may be provided in-person. The district may also bring in English Language Learners (ELL), homeless students and struggling students for in-person classes, on a voluntary basis.
“Clearly that depends on staffing and the health guidelines,” Pollio said.
A more detailed plan will be presented at next Tuesday’s Jefferson County Board of Education meeting. Board members have the final say on whether the plan moves forward. All but one of the seven members have said they want students to begin the year in NTI.
This story has been updated.