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JCPS ready to transition to NTI amid COVID spread, Pollio says

Published: Jan. 5, 2022 at 11:44 AM EST|Updated: Jan. 5, 2022 at 2:41 PM EST
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - Jefferson County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Marty Pollio said he believes there has never been a more difficult time for the district in the pandemic’s history than right now.

“The decision to come back to school year ago was very challenging and difficult, very controversial, all the vaccinations, but as far as burden on school and challenges for schools, teachers, and classrooms, I think this is the most difficult (time) by a long shot,” Pollio said.

In light of the recent spike in COVID cases, Pollio provided an update on JCPS operations on Wednesday. The superintendent said JCPS leaders meet every afternoon to assess virus data and determine whether to stick with in-person learning or to switch to Non-Traditional Instruction (NTI).

He also said that there is no set number of COVID cases in the district that would prompt JCPS to activate NTI; rather, it is monitored on a case-by-case basis.

One of Pollio’s biggest concerns is having enough staff to keep schools open. He said JCPS already had a shortage of employees before the omicron variant; now there are many out sick or quarantined, and there aren’t enough substitute teachers to cover for them. The district is drawing resource staff and office personnel to help fill the gaps.

“We are at about the point where it’s going to be difficult to continue past this with where we stand right now,” Pollio said.

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Though the district is ready to transition to NTI at any day, there are currently no plans to do so, with Pollio offering the reminder that the district only has 10 built-in NTI days per year due to a Kentucky law passed last year.

He said while he not would advocate for lawmakers to provide schools with an unlimited number of NTI days, but he would like to see an increase in the number of days built into the school year.

“There is a great fear for me that we will use our 10 NTI days and then come to a point where we cannot hold school effectively and not have the tools we need to make sure we continue safely in person school,” Pollio said.

If JCPS decides to return to at-home learning, the decision cannot be made on a school-by-school basis. Because another state statute that would have allowed them to do so expired, the entire district would have to go virtual.

However, there is a proposal working its way through the Kentucky Legislature that would allow districts to have 10 extra remote days, allowing JCPS to choose which schools would switch to NTI and which would stay in person.

Should the district move to NTI, students would be learning virtually for more than one day.

“One day of NTI will not do much for us when we are talking about clearing out those who are quarantined or have positive cases, so we will be looking for multiple days, but obviously with only 10 days we will not be making any type of permanent or long-term decision,” Pollio said.

JCPS first shifted into NTI in the spring of 2020 at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and continued with virtual learning for more than a year until March of 2021.

The district has since provided COVID testing and held COVID vaccine clinics for eligible students and their families.

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