JCPS Reopening: On the Eve of the Vote, I Still Can’t Support It
After blistering few weeks of back and forth between teachers, families, unions, the Board and JCPS, the JCPS Board of Education is meeting tonight to vote on JCPS Superintendent Dr. Marty Pollio’s recommendation to reopen schools. Click here for details and a link to watch.
I’ll be watching tonight. One of the best ways to follow along in detail is with my JCPS School Board & Media Twitter List
But before I do, I wanted to make note of the last few weeks of developments, and put down on paper how my thoughts have changed.
Here’s what has happened over the last few weeks:
- The Board and its members have ramped up quickly to get a handle around JCPS’ plan and the current science and guidelines. Researching, asking for public comment and scheduling repeated public Q&A and working sessions.
- The CDC released new guidelines, the President and Governor Beshear are pushing for schools to reopen
- The largest teacher union in Jefferson County (JCTA) released the results of a survey of its members, revealing a 58% majority that do not want schools to reopen, largely because they do not feel that JCPS’ efforts are up to snuff
- JCPS has hurriedly reacted to this feedback, updating its plans and finally publicly acknowledging parent and teacher concerns and the gaps it will not be able to fully fill.
- Individual schools, meanwhile, have been detailing their custom reopening plans and communicating them to teachers.
- The Kentucky State House of Representatives approved HB 208 which, if approved by the General Assembly, would force JCPS to reopen March 29th regardless of the Board’s decision.
- The US Department of Education is requiring standardized testing to happen by end of school year.
That’s a lot to take in. The net result over the past few weeks is that the vacuum of leadership and communication has begun to be filled, and some of the concerns that teachers and families have have been met. But in my estimation it’s still risky, and it may be a massive effort for little effect. Here’s why:
1. JCPS still cannot provide adequate social distancing in classrooms or on buses
This has been a concern from day one among teachers and families - though it was not publicly acknowledged until only recently. A realization was also made (perhaps during a board meeting) that this problem will only be exacerbated as more and more families are comfortable with coming back to school. At LPAS - we currently have nearly 70% of students returning. That equates to an average of 20 students per classroom. It can’t be done, and it’s what the CDC is recommending.
That said - public health officials from both state and local agencies are pushing for reopening as “safe”. Various mitigation layers in the plan and vaccinating teachers is rightfully driving that, but the majority of families (and no children) will be NOT vaccinated soon. So while from a community perspective we might be “safe”, there is still individual risk.
The good news is that vaccine appears to be showing dramatic effect and positive information around transmissability is showing up every day. In addition, the JCTA worked with JCPS to clarify (shockingly late, I might add) rules around accomodations for teachers who are at-risk or who are also caregivers. This included reserving some 200 vaccines for the family members of teachers who are at-risk.
2. The burden on schools is high and getting higher. The disruption is likely to be intense.
With school administration detailing plans and communicated to teachers as we speak, it’s becoming clearer that the effort it will take to reopen under this plan is immense. Non-teachers will be pressed into instructional roles, and mitigation efforts throughout the day will be shared by all in the school (administration and counselors assisting in cleanup, policing kids during entry and exit, etc). This will lead to a decline in instructional time and quality.
In addition, with the split option of NTI and in-person, student/teacher assignments are very likely to be upset. The NTI teacher your students have had throughout the year will likely change.
I have received assurances from both of the schools where I have students that everything in their power is being done (at a sprint) to comply with guidelines and lessen disruptions. But both schools have indicated that it’s going to be a huge challenge and they have concerns.
3. This massive effort buys us little quality instructional time.
All of this effort will buy us - at most - 9 weeks of school at the elementary and middle level. 7 at the high school level. For elementary, that’s 45 days of in-person learning. For middle and high schools (who will be on a weekly hybrid schedule of remote and in-person learning) that’s 14 to 18 days.
Reopening dates depend on grade level. Here's the proposed line-up:— Olivia Krauth (@oliviakrauth) February 25, 2021
— K-2nd return March 17
— 3rd-5th return March 18
— Early childhood return March 22
— Middle and high return April 5
Plus - the Department of Education recently announced it is requiring standardized testing - so a considerable amount of precious instructional time will be given over to that.
The counterpoint here is that mental health and community / economic impact from schools not being open is real. But at what risk and cost to schools and teachers are we willing to take on to achieve a short term impact? It feels very high to me - and we have not heard a peep about critical summer programs or the fall semester yet.
Finally - if student achievement or the wellbeing of the most in-need students was really what was driving this - why did we not get them into schools (safely) first?
I wonder why our reopening plans don't include a way to identify those students, reach out to those families and get them back into the buildings first? This way we can (1) get kids caught up who have fallen behind, (2) practice/perfect the districts COVID protocols,— Corrie Shull (@corrieshull) February 24, 2021
I still feel that to attempt a half-measure right now is just not worth it, and worse, it’s still unsafe.
I keep thinking about this as JCPS attempting to land an airplane on the last 10 feet of runway, where the runway is the rapidly closing 2020-2021 school year. You could do it, but at what effort and what risk? Just go around, plan a better landing for the fall semester.
I have every confidence that the administration, teachers and staff at my two schools (LPAS Elementary and Noe Middle) are going to do everything in their power to safely and effectively get kids back learning in school. But they are unfairly bearing the brunt and the burden because JCPS didn’t. Joe Gerth’s Op-Ed piece in the CJ “Don’t blame teachers. JCPS brass is responsible for getting kids in school safely” says all this better than I.
If I was on the Board, I would vote no and would immediately start pressing for immediate focus on those most in-need and at-risk as well as planning for 100% in-person summer programs and the fall semester.