TLR Staff Report
LEXINGTON, Ky. — Fayette County Public Schools this morning welcomed thousands of Kindergartners, first- and second-graders back to classrooms. Jefferson County Public Schools is still considering reopening plans.
As of Saturday, Feb. 20, the seven-day average for Fayette County is 90, putting the county in the red zone on the school’s matrix. The red zone, or Stage 4, “in concert with our other transition factors, allows for a graduated return to in-person learning,” the district said.
The return of other grade levels is being considered. In a press conference last week, Acting Superintendent Marianne Helm said grades 3-5 may return to campus March 3-5, but the decision will be revisited and reaffirmed on Tuesday, Feb. 23. The district is exploring many different scenarios to accomplish the goal of providing in-person learning for all students whose families have selected that option, the district said in a news release.
“We’re closer than we’ve ever been, but it’s just not an easy proposition,” Helm said during a Feb. 17 virtual news conference. “We have no intention of trying to drag this out. It’s just that every plan written on paper doesn’t always unroll or unfurl the way you want it to.”
Helm and other officials explained that the matrix transition factors can present a challenge and affect the implementation of the overall plan, requiring FCPS to move incrementally and intentionally. “We simply can’t rush through because we said ‘A’ two months ago,” she said. “We have every intention of trying to get every student back just as quickly as we can, (but) we can’t give you a definitive date.”
One of the major challenges facing the district is the operations and support transition factor – a shortage of school bus drivers in particular. Myron Thompson, the district’s chief operating officer, reported FCPS has 34 openings for drivers, and another two dozen on staff are unable to return to work at this time because of medical conditions or childcare issues.
“We’re actively recruiting people to fill these positions. It just takes time,” Thompson said, noting the district offers classes for applicants to help them earn a CDL license.
Last week, officials with Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) conducted a Virtual Town Hall to respond to questions about reopening plans, bus riding procedures, mask requirements and other district details about an eventual return to in-person classes.
It was the fourth forum sponsored by the district since schools closed to in-person classes last March. JCPS representatives responded to nearly 2,000 questions that were texted in to dedicated numbers.
“The most important thing we can do right now is continue to communicate and provide accurate and timely information as much as possible to our families, staff and the community,” said JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio. “Virtual platforms like this give us another avenue to interact directly with the public and respond to the specific questions on their minds.”
The Jefferson County Board of Education has devoted several meetings to discussing the district’s reopening plans and the evolving guidance from local, state, and national officials, but has not yet voted on a date when schools will open for classes.