89.3 WFPL News Louisville @ JCPS Quarantined Nearly 2,000 Students And Staff Since Oncoming of School
In the first nine times of the new school year, Jefferson County Public Schools quarantined 1,853 students and staff, and confirmed 433 cases of COVID-19. Parents and district leaders worry it may indicate a rocky school year ahead, while the delta variant rages.
Breckinridge-Franklin Elementary School third grader Snow Castillo was excited to return to school last Wednesday. She said she reached see her friend Abby again and look for her new classroom around the second floor, with the big kids. But on Friday her teacher gave her some bad news: she'd been exposed to COVID-19 and would have to quarantine until she had a negative test.
\”It's like two days and then it's like, 'bye bye!'\” Snow explained to WFPL News by phone.
\”Like, literally, can one a minimum of get like 72 hours of just being in school, peaceful, nothing happening that's weird? No. No, I can't. I guess I can not,\” she said.
Students have to quarantine if they spend a cumulative 15 minutes within one yard of the infected person. Snow is one of at least 945 JCPS students who were quarantined in the first 5 days from the school year. A lot more than 250 had tested positive. By Thursday evening, the number of quarantined students had grown to a lot more than 1,784 and 376 students had tested positive. The district has about 92,000 students enrolled.
Snow's dad, Kristan Castillo, said fortunately his time-table is flexible. He was able to pick Snow up from soccer practice and stay home together with her throughout the quarantine period.
\”I can imagine how hard that would be for other people who did not have that schedule, you realize? That freedom,\” he said.
With so many students quarantined within the first week, some district leaders are pondering just how long in-person learning can last.
\”I'm worried – because the numbers keep growing – sooner or later, we’re likely to reach this breaking point,\” District 3 Jefferson County Board of Education member James Craig said at Tuesday's board meeting.
Some Kentucky districts have already reached their breaking point. Lee County Schools and Knott County Schools each turn off in-person learning for several days after a large number of students and staff tested positive for COVID-19 or needed to quarantine.
\”This will be a tough year and we don't wish to have to shut down this early,\” Lee County Schools superintendent Sarah Wasson wrote inside a message to families, \”but if we can determine who is positive now we feel we can stay in school longer.\”
JCPS superintendent Marty Pollio told board members Tuesday when the district comes to a breaking point, it will likely be due to personnel shortages. Sick or quarantined teachers can't teach in-person classes. And sick or quarantined bus drivers can't drive students to college.
\”Staffing is the one that really puts us at risk, because we’re already short because it is,\” he explained.
Pollio said staff vaccinations are key to avoiding personnel shortages, since vaccinated staff members don't have to quarantine when they are exposed, once they do not have symptoms. They're also much less likely to contract the condition. But the vaccine isn't mandatory. JCPS doesn't keep records how a lot of its staff are vaccinated but to date 66 personnel have tested positive for the virus, from about 18,000 employees. And an additional 52 are quarantined.
Castillo remains optimistic that school can remain in-person which his daughter won't face repeated quarantines. Her test came back negative.
\”My hope is this fact is sort of a once-off, or perhaps a very rare kind of thing. But after the day, that's just hope,\” he said. He explained he's prepared if the district goes into nontraditional instruction, or NTI-the remote and hybrid learning models schools used over the past two school years.
But switching to remote instruction has its own hurdles. State law requires 170 days annually of in-person instruction. This past year, state lawmakers granted school districts unlimited NTI days so that students could learn remotely and stop multiplication of COVID-19.
But in March of this year, when infections were falling and vaccinations were rising, lawmakers passed House Bill 208, legislation meant to return to the regular 10-day limit.
Since then, herpes has surged again, using the contagious delta variant bringing Kentucky's test positivity rate to 12.75%-the state's highest ever. More patients are being hospitalized, including children.
JCPS superintendent Marty Pollio said if the district does want to go remote, they'll need action in the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) or Gov. Andy Beshear.
Reached for comment, KDE spokesperson Toni Konz Tatman said the department has heard from some districts \”about the requirement for flexible scheduling.\”
\”Throughout HB 208, the overall Assembly suggested its preference for in-person learning throughout the 2022-2022 school year. However, the overall Assembly's language in HB 208 regarding NTI is less suggestive of an absolute prohibition on anymore than Ten days,\” she wrote.
Konz Tatman said KDE staff are \”reviewing all options.\”