LOUISVILLE, Ky. – In the end, the decision about when, how and why to resume face-to-face classes for Jefferson County Public Schools was bound to present divergences, drama and many emotions.
Click to expand
Thursday evening JCPS council meeting and 4 to 3 votes in favor of reopening classrooms delivered it all.
And, as expected, the reaction to the important vote – which some members described as a “life and death” situation in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic – was not devoid of passion and variety.
Although many claimed and agreed that face-to-face teaching is better than non-traditional teaching, almost no one – teachers, parents, students and the board members themselves – seemed completely happy and at ease after the meeting, which lasted more than three hours .
Especially controversial was the sudden change to put primary schools on a hybrid schedule.
And concerns about racial equality were apparent, as the three board members who opposed the plan criticized the JCPS for ignoring their most disadvantaged communities and students.
Reopening of the JCPS: Here’s a quick look at the plan and what happens now
Board members James Craig, Sarah McIntosh, Linda Duncan and Joe Marshall voted for the reopening. President Diane Porter, Vice President Chris Kolb and board member Corrie Shull voted against.
Porter, whose District 1 includes several neighborhoods in western Louisville, said it was still receiving questions on constituent Friday “because we still have some blanks we are not filling.”
Most of the questions focused on the quality of classroom versus virtual instruction, transportation, sanitation and ventilation in school buildings, said Porter.
“I didn’t feel comfortable voting for something I hadn’t seen,” Porter told The Courier Journal, referring to the inclusion of primary schools in the hybrid plan.
“I don’t think some people thought it was the right thing to do, but I was elected to represent District 1,” said Porter. “And not to mention the disparities in my district, I think, is a mistake, because each district is a little different.
“And the things I said about District 1 are true,” continued Porter. “The vaccination rate has been lower here. Our health care opportunities have been different from those in other parts of the community. Some of our students will have to travel longer by bus.
“So I voted for the district I represent last night.”
The adjustments in the middle of the meeting with the proposal left some teachers and parents frustrated.
“THIS IS A JOKE!” Professor of Marion C. Moore Kimberly Buechel tweeted Thursday night after the vote. “We waited weeks for this vote and now our board members vote on a plan that has not yet been discussed or considered. Adding EVEN MORE stress to our stakeholders.”
Others noted that it was an imperfect situation, but were happy with the children who will be able to spend a few days in front of a teacher this year.
JCPS superintendent Marty Pollio said at a news conference on Thursday that he was “very aware” that the board could push for an elementary hybrid model. The months of developing a plan were not wasted, he said.
“I can also understand the hybrid model and the need to want to have fewer children in school,” said Pollio. “I’m excited that we’re going back to school.”
What is the plan?
At first glance, the reopening plan that a division of the JCPS council approved thursday it looks quite simple.
Students from Kentucky’s largest district will return to classrooms on a continuous schedule starting in March, a year after the abrupt closure of schools due to COVID-19:
- Kindergarten to second grade will return on March 17.
- Third to fifth grade on March 18.
- Early childhood on March 22.
- Elementary and high school on April 5th.
All students will be on hybrid schedules that offer two days a week of face-to-face classes and three days of virtual learning. Students with surnames of A-K will be at school on Monday and Tuesday, and surnames of L-Z will be present; Thursday and Friday. All students will learn remotely on Wednesdays and when the opposite group is at school.
Through an amendment introduced by Craig, elementary students in special education will be the only group to attend face-to-face classes more than twice a week. Although the council initially said they would go to school five days a week, special education students are scheduled to attend four days a week, to allow schools to be cleaned on Wednesdays.
Finally, families can still choose to keep their children at home for the remainder of the 2020-21 school year in a virtual learning academy option.
‘A slap in the face of our students’
But there are still doubts about the district’s reopening plan, which initially envisaged that all primary schools would have face-to-face classes five days a week.
Gaps in the amended reopening plan, especially related to special education students being the only ones to return four days a week, can pose logistical and legal challenges.
“All JCPS teachers with elementary age children are now fighting for daycare centers and trying to understand how their 6 year olds are going to work ‘asynchronously’ three days a week,” tweeted High School art teacher Scot Entrican, adding that it is “almost like we take a bad situation and make it worse.”
What to expect from your school: How easy will it be to distance yourself in the JCPS classrooms?
Asked about a response to Thursday’s vote, Jefferson County Teachers Association President Brent McKim reiterated that the union “had no official position on a return date”.
“There are doubts about how to take care of the teachers’ own children, since primary schools will be hybrid, so the district will need to work on solutions to this problem,” McKim wrote by email.
Alyson Cleyman, a Louisville mother who serves as a liaison for the group “Let Them Learn in JCPS” for special education students and low-income families in JCPS, said she is happy that Craig and other board members “seemed to be fighting for meet these special needs (ECE) students first. “
But Cleyman said he is concerned about other members of Let Them Learn in JCPS, a group formed to promote face-to-face classes, who “at first stated that a hybrid option is better than no option”, but are now “saying they are unhappy with the decision of the councils and, specifically, with Craig’s amendment. “
“They are making the group look contradictory and never happy,” said Cleyman.
In a press release, Let Them Learn in JCPS said it urges “the Kentucky General Assembly to intervene and demand that school districts provide full-time in-person instruction for families who are comfortable with this option.”
“A hybrid school model is a slap in the face for our students who have already sacrificed their education, mental stability and emotional well-being in the past year,” Steve Ullum, father of JCPS and founding member of Let Them Learn, said on communicated. “This means that our children will continue to suffer because our school board is more interested in using them as pawns in their political game than in defending their best interests.”
Legislation advancing in Frankfort that would requires districts to resume some form of face-to-face instruction by the end of March, along with Governor Andy Beshear recommending the reopening of schools as educators wrapped their COVID-19 vaccinations, means that the JCPS board faced additional pressure and limitations to approve a devolution plan.
John Stovall, president of Teamsters Local 783, who represents about 1,300 district support workers who are bus drivers, as well as maintenance personnel, land, storage, nutrition and others, said “there is apprehension” about the schools reopening.
“But a lot of that is because of Facebook and people read false information online instead of going to their union or employer,” said Stovall.
He said his union is working on a memorandum with the JCPS to ensure drivers remain safe, and noted that several union leaders and JCPS employees have met every week since last year to discuss plans to reopen.
Stovall said the district “may be able to survive” with a shortage of at least 175 bus drivers “because they will not have all the students back”.
“There will be people upset. There will be people afraid. All we can do is follow the CDC and KDE guidelines,” said Stovall. “In the end, it is what it is. I think the district’s hands were kind of tied in anyway with (state law).
“We will do what we can to ensure that they are as safe as possible at work,” added Stovall.
Racial equity concerns
Issues of racial equity were highlighted in Thursday’s debate and months’ discussions of whether JCPS should resume face-to-face classes this year.
After the proposal in person was approved, the council moved forward with a resolution asking the JCPS to focus better on racial equity while fine-tuning and implementing its reopening plan.
But some black teachers and activists still felt betrayed, although several board members criticized the district for failing to prioritize disadvantaged students in its proposal and for doing little to address the growing health concerns faced by Louisville’s black and brown residents. .
Black families are less likely to feel comfortable sending students back to face-to-face education compared to white families, according to district data.
These concerns were highlighted by Shull, Porter and Kolb – the three “no” votes representing the Newburg, West End and Highlands area, respectively.
“My concern with the plan as it was presented is that it does not prioritize the most vulnerable children, children who have been most systematically disapproved by the JCPS,” said Shull, pointing specifically to the black, Hispanic and immigrant communities in the district.
Metropolitan Area Adviser Jecorey Arthur, D-4th District, a JCPS graduate and former professor who is now a professor at Simmons College of Kentucky, expressed his concerns about equality.
Some district leaders and council members have missed the big question of “who” is served by the reopening of schools, said Arthur.
“JCPS was ready for some students,” said Arthur. “But it was not ready for all students.”
Although she voted against the reopening plan, Porter said she thinks schools in her district will be able to make it work, and the former principal hopes to visit her schools to “thank everyone” and ask if they need anything.
But there will have to be “serious talks about academic responsibility” as students try to recover from months of interrupted learning, said Porter.
“We cannot deny that there was a loss of learning,” said Porter, “although we have worked, worked, worked and will continue to work, work and work a little more.”
Talk to Billy Kobin at email@example.com. Talk to Olivia Krauth at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter at @oliviakrauth.
This article was originally published in the Louisville Courier Journal: Many called for face-to-face classes. But the JCPS plan still raises logistical and equity concerns