LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - Kentucky’s largest school district is counting on COVID-19 vaccinations to resume in-person classes safely in the new year.
During a board meeting Tuesday, Jefferson County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Marty Pollio suggested elementary students could return to school buildings by mid-February. He said the timeline all depends on how soon teachers become vaccinated against the coronavirus.
The Jefferson County Board of Education (JCBE) will ultimately vote on the plan to resume in-person learning. Pollio said he would have more information for board members at their next meeting scheduled for Jan. 5.
“As difficult and as challenging as it has been and I know it’s been for everyone in the JCPS family and I’m thankful for that, we are close to getting to a point where we can return safely once we implement our vaccination plan,” Pollio said.
The Kentucky Department of Public Health and Gov. Andy Beshear recommended a return to in-person learning no sooner than Jan. 11. Pollio on Tuesday said his recommendation to reopen schools would include a phased in approach that would likely begin a month later.
“As we move into post-holiday spread, I do not see where we will be dropping into a safe area at Jan. 11 either,” he said. “I do see our quickest path to returning to school is the vaccine, but if we do drop substantially, I will give you a recommendation that puts us back in school.”
Pollio on Tuesday presented a vaccine roll out proposal, created in conjunction with the Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness. The plan includes vaccinations for “school based” personnel first, including substitute teachers, in a potential drive through event. The same employees would receive a booster shot 21 days later with schools opening two weeks after that.
Pollio clarified teachers for preschool, kindergarten, 1st, 2nd and 3rd grade would be vaccinated first.
“We will not open until it’s safe, we are hoping that by late January or the first of February where we can get the vaccine, and 21 days later give the booster then open up to our youngest students first,” he said.
Under Pollio’s plan, the cycle would repeat for teachers in 4th grade, then 5th and so on until high school.
Pollio said he still doesn’t know when schools will receive their first shipment of vaccines, but he expects late January. Pollio said he also didn’t know how many vaccines were needed. JCPS will survey it’s 17,000 employees this week to see how many will opt-in to the process.
According to Pollio, the vaccines are free for JCPS employees but cannot legally be mandated, although they will be highly encouraged. He said employees who deny the vaccine without a reason may still be required to return to work but that was still “preliminary” and not decided.
During Tuesday’s meeting, the JCBE went on to review Gov. Beshear’s new Healthy at School guidance announced Monday.
Under the guidance, counties that fall in the red zone based on state metrics are to consider remote learning or a hybrid model. Schools would also be required to provide a “meaningful” virtual option that does not have a negative impact on student grades; Pollio on Tuesday confirmed JCPS students will still have the option of a virtual academy even if in-person class resume.
On Tuesday, Pollio also discussed JCPS involvement in Kentucky High School Athletic Association (KSHAA) winter sports. While the KSHAA recommended that practice for winter sports could begin Dec. 14, Pollio said the district would postpone any activity until Jan. 5 at the earliest. Board members even discussed leaving the KSHAA for the semester, however no decisions were made.