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

JCPS officials may be preparing to return to remote learning amid a surge in COVID-19 cases and a chance for snow later this week.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — As Kentucky sees higher COVID-19 numbers than ever before, changes could be coming to Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS).

JCPS returned to in-person instruction Tuesday, Jan. 4 after winter break. On Tuesday, more than 16,800 students were counted absent, as well as 622 teachers, according to a district spokesperson. The district website says there are at least 96,000 students enrolled in JCPS.

In-person classes are set to continue Wednesday, but some schools are preparing families for the possibility of a return to virtual learning.

Chenoweth Elementary sent an email to parents Tuesday, informing them of the possibility of a "short remote instructional period." Students at the school are being instructed to take home their computers and supplies daily, in case the district switches to non-traditional instruction (NTI).

The district expanded COVID-19 testing at five locations Monday to allow for increased demand following the holidays. District data show more than 6,000 total positive cases so far among students and staff for the 2021-22 school year.

In a letter to parents Sunday, JCPS officials said they are "continually reviewing data to understand COVID’s impact on our school community." Per state law, JCPS can use 10 remote learning days.

In addition, Louisville could see its first measurable snowfall of the season Thursday. Somewhere between 1" and 3" is expected in the metro Louisville area, which could lead to school closures and delays.

JCPS officials said parents will be immediately notified if any schedule changes are made.

Delvon Paris said he’s scared now that his four-year-old grandson is in the classroom. On Tuesday, he stood in a COVID-19 testing line for JCPS students, staff and family members.

"Christmas just came and we all were excited, but now his grandmother got it and that's why I'm here today,” Paris said.

He said he thinks they went back to school too early, and it leaves him with the same questions that have been asked repeatedly over the past two years.

"Are we going to have to quarantine again?” Paris asked. “When is it ever going to be over with?"

Anthony Summers and his daughter were also in line for testing. He said 15 faculty members were out at his childrens' school due to COVID, but the safety precautions the district follows made him feel secure.

"I feel comfortable - masking up, washing hands - just doing all the little things to keep transmission low,” Summers said.

He said the access to testing adds to that comfort. 

"I think they've all done a great job,” Summers said.

"It feels so good to be back! It felt like forever,” excited fifth grader R’Shae Brown said. She attends Coleridge-Taylor Montessori Elementary.

Her brother, Ariston Hudson, is in kindergarten and has been learning online all year, but Brown has been in the classroom. It's something their mom hopes doesn't change, but as COVID cases rise, she understands if it does.

Jefferson County Teacher Association (JCTA) Vice President Tammy Berlin said the first day was rough. She said several teachers told her there was a lack of substitutes and some teachers even tested positive for COVID in the middle of the day.

"We always look forward to being back with them,” Berlin said. “It's really stressful though with the COVD numbers that we're having right now."

Berlin says the JCTA has worked with the district to make sure there are N95 masks available for all teachers at all schools.

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