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'I'm keeping my fingers crossed': Parents wait for virtual school space as COVID cases rise

Some parents said they've waited weeks for a spot in JCPS's virtual school. The district said more families signed up than expected and they need more teachers.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — With COVID cases continuing to rise, more and more parents of Jefferson County Public School students are turning to Pathfinder, though the initial deadline was several weeks ago.

The program is the district’s main virtual option for parents since the district’s non-traditional instruction days are limited.

Brandi Bullitt said she is holding out hope for a call from JCPS.

"It’s been about two or three weeks and I haven't heard anything, so I'm just hoping I hear something soon,” she said.

One of Bullitt's sons is seriously ill and going to school online, separate from JCPS. Her son got sick this summer, and she signed her other son up for Pathfinder too late. He still goes to JCPS, every day taking a risk.

"I know what to do at home to keep him safe, but I don't know what he's coming in contact with at school,” Bullitt said.

Records we requested from the district showed 549 students on a waitlist as of Aug. 18.

RELATED: 'Greater challenge than we've ever faced': JCPS prepares parents ahead of first day of school

At the start of the year on Aug. 11, JCPS had 1,290 elementary schoolers registered for Pathfinder. That jumped to 1,348 by Aug. 18.

For middle and high-schoolers the jump was about 100 students, from 2,019 to 2,118.

More parents are interested than school officials planned, and Chief Academic Officer Carmen Coleman said they’re looking for more help.

"We don't have enough teachers for the number of students that we have,” she said. "We are going to do our best to accommodate as many students as we can."

RELATED: JCPS reports dozens of COVID-19 cases in first week back to school

Margo Ellis signed her child up just before the start of the year. She said her family took their time running the pro’s and con’s.

"It was just kind of a hard place to be in as a parent. What decision is the right decision for your household?" she said.

Families who signed up early were lucky enough to get spots. Elizabeth Berfield said the partnership with the Florida Virtual School is making the program run well so far.

"It feels like an established program, and they've got a groove to their day and they've been able to really connect with their teachers,” she said.

Others though are struggling. Ashley Woodson's son has autism and she worries he isn't getting the care called for under his learning plan.

"If you're not in our shoes then you don't know what it’s like,” she said. “Every day we log on and the material posted for the children is not for my son.”

That's another hurdle Coleman says JCPS is working through, encouraging parents to reach out to the school if they have issues.

The district’s main challenge now is searching for space for every student.

"We are working furiously to get to that waitlist early next week,” she said.

In the meantime, parents like Bullitt said they feel left behind.

"I'm just keeping my fingers crossed that he gets accepted soon,” she said.

JCPS encouraged parents with students learning in-person to sign the consent form for in-school COVID testing. Officials said about 7,000 families have signed off so far.

More than 1,000 JCPS students have tested positive for COVID-19 since the start of the year, and nearly 5,500 students are quarantined.  

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