By Steve Bittenbender
(The Center Square) – After a three-hour meeting Thursday, the Jefferson County Board of Education voted 4-3 in dramatic fashion to start bringing students back to classrooms in Kentucky’s largest school district for the first time in nearly a year.
Board Member Joe Marshall cast the deciding vote and asked for a moment before making his decision. Even after Board Chair Diane Porter came back to him a second time, a clearly anguished Marshall paused nearly 20 seconds before saying yes.
The district, which serves about 100,000 students in Louisville, switched to virtual learning last spring because of the COVID-19 pandemic and continued with it for the start of the 2020-21 school year. However, as the state made vaccinating teachers a priority, some parents and lawmakers began questioning when JCPS would at least move to a hybrid format that private schools in Louisville and public schools in suburban counties have offered.
A bill currently before the state legislature would mandate districts resuming some type of in-person instruction by the end of March.
Under the plan passed by the JCPS board, students in kindergarten to second grade will start hybrid learning March 17. Third- through fifth-graders would begin the following day. Elementary students with special education needs will attend classes five days a week under the plan.
Superintendent Marty Pollio initially proposed all elementary students to return full-time only for the board to amend that. After the meeting Pollio told reporters that the district studied the issue in making the proposal.
“That was my recommendation, but I can also understand the hybrid model and the need to want to have less kids in the school,” the superintendent said. “I’m excited that we’re going back to school.”
Early childhood classes return March 22, with middle and high schoolers returning April 5.
Opponents said they were unsure about the benefit of bringing kids back to school buildings late in the school year.
“I have two JCPS students in NTI as well,” Board Members Corrie Shull tweeted Thursday morning. “I understand the challenges. Some are excelling. Some are not. Online teaching is not ideal. However, teachers are raising significant concerns about how effective teaching will be in-person for the last six weeks of the year.”
While the district will move forward with bringing students back over the next couple of weeks, there are also some questions about meeting staffing needs.
Porter, who voted against the plan, said she had concerns if the district has enough sanitation workers and bus drivers. However, she accepted the outcome.
“We have a lot of work to do,” she said. “This is not the end of the journey. This is the end of this night and this vote, but we are still in a pandemic. We still have to deal with the academics of students in a pandemic. We have to deal with the safe environment for the students and the academics… but we must move forward.”
Originally published by The Center Square. Republished with permission.