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

Some of the COVID safety measures include universal masking inside school buildings, assigned seating, enhanced cleaning, ventilation systems, and social distancing.

JEFFERSON COUNTY, Ky. — As Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) students and staff prepare for the first day of school tomorrow, Superintendent Dr. Marty Pollio is assuring guardians the district is ready to start the school year, with COVID-19 safety protocols in place.

Pollio said JCPS has worked hard through the uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic to ensure more than 96,000 students will be able to return to school in-person and virtually.

“I want to assure parents and students that we are ready,” Pollio said. “It doesn’t mean there won’t be some unanticipated issues on the first day of school, but we’re doing our best to make sure our schools, including our virtual schools, are ready for students tomorrow.”

RELATED: Officials note 'disturbing' increase in COVID among children as delta variant spreads

Before the first day, parent Sanna Viitamaa took her daughter to get tested at Ballard High School, through one of the district's testing sites. 

"We were traveling for the summer, we just got back from Finland," she said.

Testing will be just one measure the district takes for safety. Others include universal masking inside school buildings, assigned seating, enhanced cleaning, ventilation systems, and social distancing when possible. 

"While we may not be able to do this in every scenario, we will do everything possible to do as much social distancing as we can," Dr. Eva Stone, the district's health manager, said.

The district says these measures will make contact tracing easier and reduce the number of people who have to quarantine when a positive case is verified.

"This is the importance of masking in schools," Pollio said. "Yes, for the health and safety of our students, but to dramatically decrease the contact tracing and quarantining that may take place if there's a positive case."

Students who have to quarantine will learn virtually, with live instruction through the district. More than 2200 kids won't come to the buildings at all, learning through the Pathfinder program. The virtual school is for students in sixth through twelfth grade, but it is also open to elementary students this year.

"We do offer that virtual academy option if parents don't want their child wearing a mask in school," Pollio said.

Since the district announced a rollout for elementary students late last month, 1200 have signed on. To support that number of students, JCPS partnered with Florida Virtual School and Edmentum.

Another shield will be optional daily testing for symptomatic students. Diagnostic testing for people without symptoms will also be available weekly, the district encouraging people to plan ahead.

"Lots of people have COVID and don't have symptoms," Stone said. "So we'd love to have 10% of a building participating because that gives us a good idea." 

The district hopes parents and students will be tested regularly, like Viitamaa plans to. 

"I think we will, just depending how the school year goes. I think it's really important that it's offered in so many schools," she said. 

Guardians are encouraged to sign the consent form so their students may be tested for COVID-19. Testing for symptomatic students will be available daily and diagnostic testing will be available weekly.

RELATED: JCPS teachers prep for start of school year

For more information on the district's back-to-school plan, visit jefferson.kyschools.us.

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