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Is JCPS going back to NTI? Superintendent answers questions about COVID surge

Dr. Marty Pollio said the district is ready to return to NTI, but it won't happen immediately.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) is staying in-person for now, but the district is prepared to go to virtual instruction at any time, according to Superintendent Dr. Marty Pollio.

Dr. Pollio held a question and answer session Wednesday to update the community on the district's plan for handling the growing number of COVID-19 cases in the school system and Jefferson County.

Will JCPS return to NTI?

Dr. Pollio said school leaders are checking the data every day and will make the call to move to virtual instruction based on those numbers. When asked, he said he did not have a benchmark for that decision since the number of absences affects each school differently.

“I get a lot of questions, kids are preparing for NTI, teachers are preparing for NTI yeah of course we are, we had to, we know that’s probable," he said. 

The superintendent said the decision will be made in the afternoon and if the district moves to NTI, it will not be for a single day. He also said there will not be a permanent move to at-home instruction.

Per Kentucky state law, each school district has ten non-traditional instruction (NTI) days to use during the school year. In September, Pollio said it wasn't enough, and he feels the same way now.

"I know we need more than ten NTI days," he said.

He said is planning to push the Kentucky legislature to allow for more flexibility since the state is dealing with record-breaking COVID numbers. Pollio said health experts don't expect the omicron variant to peak until later this month, so he worried about using NTI days too soon.

“In talking to health experts we most likely have not seen the worst of Omicron when it comes to our community and our schools,' he said. "With 21 school days through February, and that's to see if that happens if we have ten NTI days.”

RELATED: More than 16,000 JCPS students absent on first day back from winter break

Pollio's top concern is not being able to continue school effectively and safely after those ten days have been used up. JCPS does have an extra four days due to the number of instructional hours already built into the district's schedule, but nothing beyond that.

On top of COVID concerns, the Louisville area is expecting its first snowfall of 2022 Thursday. Pollio said the district will make the call either late Wednesday or early Thursday morning, depending on the forecast. 

He urged JCPS families to make sure they have a way to be notified of any closures or delays related to inclement weather.

Substitute shortages

Dr. Pollio said the substitute pool at JCPS is "nowhere close" to where it needs to be. He estimated that the district lost more than 100 substitute teachers within the last two years - and that number is likely even higher considering the impact of omicron.

He said some schools have had anywhere from ten to 12 uncovered classrooms because of staffing shortages. Staff members from other departments have been helping meet the need, but it hasn't been enough.

“Ten years ago this wasn’t the case, but everywhere now there is a severe shortage of subs," Pollio said. 

To recruit more substitutes, the district is offering a $500 incentive for subs who work in the classroom for 20 consecutive days.

Progress since the start of the pandemic

The superintendent applauded the work of the district's staff and team members over the last two years. 

He said at least 90% of school employees have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, thanks, in part, to the financial incentives provided by the Kentucky Department of Education.

JCPS held multiple testing clinics as students prepared to return to the classroom Jan. 4. Pollio praised the scale of the testing and vaccine clinics held in the district, saying he would put their programs up against any other district in the country.

Pollio also said the district is better prepared to return to NTI if it's needed. When students first went home in 2020, JCPS struggled to get needed supplies like Chromebooks to everyone who needed them. Pollio said schools are already preparing teachers and students for the possibility of at-home instruction so they don't run into the same issues.

Contact reporter Grace McKenna at gmckenna@whas11.com. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

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