LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Members of the Jefferson County Board of Education who wish to reconsider reducing COVID-19 contact tracing and easing quarantine requirements as previously recommended by Superintendent Marty Pollio should raise the matter by themselves.
Pollio says he does not intend to make a second recommendation on ending contact tracing and quarantining for school exposures and reducing isolation periods for those whose COVID-19 test is positive at least five days after the council rejected its first by a single vote on January 18.
JCPS administrators supported the recommended change, which was based on updated guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Kentucky Department for Public Health for school districts with universal masking policies like JCPS.
Council members who wish to reconsider its recommendation can do so during the district’s regular COVID-19 updates at council meetings, Pollio said.
“At that time, any member of the Board of Directors may move a motion that they wish to change our COVID mitigation,” he said Monday. “As long as they have a second and four votes, that would become a new policy that I would follow.”
Sarah Cole McIntosh, who represents District 7, says she hopes the board will at least reconsider updating the COVID-19 quarantine policies at JCPS. She thinks relaxing them will help the district manage ongoing staffing shortages and limit learning disruptions for students.
McIntosh was one of three JCPS board members who supported Pollio’s recommendation to relax the district’s COVID-19 protocols in January.
“I don’t think we can close our achievement gaps, I don’t think we can address any kind of opportunities for learning loss when kids are out of school,” he said. she declared. “We know that. We already have an attendance problem with some of our populations who are statistically chronically absent, and when you add 10 days of quarantine to that, you have children who miss the equivalent of months of school every year. You just can’t get over that.
Diane Porter, the council chair representing District 1, was among four council members who voted against changing the district’s COVID-19 mitigation plan. She called the proposal “dangerous” at the time, and she told WDRB News that coronavirus data and input from public health experts and district officials remain key factors in deliberations.
Porter expects discussions about revising the district’s COVID-19 response to continue as they have throughout the pandemic.
“None of this has been consistent throughout,” she said. “That changes as we move forward, so I anticipate there will be another conversation to review that. But for parents who thank us for keeping quarantine as it is now, it’s quite difficult to d ignore these families.”
The debate over COVID-19 mitigation strategies continues at JCPS as school districts in other states adjust to newly relaxed protocols amid declining coronavirus case counts.
Indiana and several other states have dropped contact tracing and quarantine recommendations after school exposures, regardless of district masking policies. States like Massachusetts and New Jersey have also announced plans to lift statewide masking requirements in schools.
The CDC, which recommends universal masking inside schools, is also expected to revise its guidelines on indoor masking soon, according to reports.
Pollio said he would base recommendations for indoor masking at the JCPS on federal and state guidelines.
“As soon as that changes and makes that recommendation to us, I’ll make that recommendation to our board,” he said.
The backlash against the district’s masking policy generally gets louder as COVID-19 cases decline, Pollio said.
“It’s been very tense the last few weeks,” he said. “I expect that to continue throughout the coming weeks, whether we make a change or another push happens somewhere down the road.”
However, decisions on JCPS masking policies could elude the board by the end of this year’s legislative session.
The Kentucky House of Representatives is set to consider a measure that would allow families of public school students to opt out of district masking requirements. The House Education Committee passed House Bill 51 in a 12-7 vote on February 15.
“It’s hard to have a one-size-fits-all approach with something like this that’s going to be effective in all of the diverse communities that we have across Kentucky,” McIntosh said.
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