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JCPS Board unanimously approves universal masking policy for students, staff

During a meeting with heated, sometimes passionate comments, board members voted to follow CDC and state masking guidelines.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Kentucky’s largest school district has approved a measure requiring masks for everyone entering their buildings this year.

The Jefferson County School Board voted unanimously for universal masking – meaning if you are vaccinated or not, you will be required to wear a mask if you visit any of their facilities.

"Without a doubt, number one priority is to ensure that we keep our students and staff in school every day this year,” Pollio said.

Universal masking policies have drawn heat from parents and opposing school groups.

“Let Them Learn in JCPS” issued a statement after Pollio’s announcement saying in part, "Masks should not be viewed as a quid pro quo for a return to full-time, in-person education. Access to education is a taxpayer-funded right. The ability to breathe freely is an inherent right. We believe that students deserve for their rights to be respected.”

For Pollio, masks are the second line of defense to vaccination.

"When people ask me ‘what is the incentive for vaccinating,’ well vaccinating and masking keep someone usually from having to quarantine,” he said.

RELATED: CDC reverses course on indoor masks in parts of US where COVID is surging

Pollio said masks reduce the chance of mass quarantine, the biggest threat to in-person learning days. He plans to align his decisions with advice from health officials and the Kentucky Department of Education, meaning nothing is set in stone.

"This decision is not a 2021-2022 entire year decision. This could change at several points during the school year,” he said. 

As for testing and contact tracing, Pollio said the district will provide free testing through the state's new school program. They'll continue other measures, but Pollio said he knows those will be a challenge.

"We cannot keep kids six feet apart or even three feet apart at all times, so we're going to do everything that we possibly can to ensure social distancing when we can,” Pollio said.

Three school board members — Corrie Shull, Chris Kolb and James Craig — have already voiced support for the superintendent's thinking.

Another topic discussed Tuesday was virtual learning for elementary students. The board passed a plan that would allow elementary students to enroll in the Pathfinder School of Innovation, which currently only has programming for 6th through 12th grade. However, the Kentucky Department of Education must approve a waiver from the district before the option can be available.

Students enrolled in the virtual school will no longer be enrolled in their original school assignment and the virtual option will need to be renewed each year.

Pollio added it is likely vaccines for kids under 12 will be a real possibility during this school year. He said he is looking forward to the opportunity for those students to get their shots.

You can see the full details of the board's presentation here.

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