LOUISVILLE, Ky. — There are new mask mandates at Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) for its summer programs to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
JCPS changed its mask mandates starting on Monday, following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its guidance for school districts across the U.S., which came out on Friday last week.
“I want to keep my little siblings safe and I want to keep my family safe,” said JCPS summer school student, Brianna Underwood-Garcia, regarding how she felt about JCPS’s updated mask mandates for its summer programs.
The 11-year-old, like many of her fellow students under 12-years-old, currently can’t get vaccinated against COVID-19, which means they are now required to wear masks while inside JCPS school property under the school district’s updated mask mandate.
On June 12, JCPS lifted the mask mandate for all students and staff, following guidance from the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE). The lifted mandate meant masks were optional, regardless of vaccination status.
A month later, however, JCPS has updated its mask guidance for its summer programs in accordance with the CDC updating its guidance last Friday for K-12 schools across the United States to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“None of us are epidemiologists. I get emailed to me a lot of studies and a lot of things, but we have to rely on the experts,” JCPS Superintendent Dr. Marty Pollio said during a press conference with media on Monday.
During its summer programs, JCPS now requires students and staff not fully vaccinated against COVID-19 to wear a mask while inside school property. In addition, all staff and students must wear a mask on a JCPS school bus, regardless if they are vaccinated or not. However, no one is required to wear a mask outdoors.
JCPS decided to implement these updates prior to guidance released by KDE.
“We know they (KDE) are going to be providing some guidance in the upcoming week. We don’t know exactly when that’s going to come out, but we felt this was a step we had to take, being that the CDC put this guidance out Friday, with the words ‘should wear masks if unvaccinated.’ Pretty clear for us, that’s why we felt it was important for us to step up today and make this change,” Pollio said.
Stanley McDowell, a JCPS summer school substitute teacher, told Spectrum News he is vaccinated and felt safe teaching when masks were optional. However, McDowell also said he thinks the requirement for everyone to wear a mask should have stayed in place.
“With the new requirement, we are now separating out those who are and those who are not (vaccinated). So now we have a visual of almost like a two-class system, in which we know who is vaccinated versus who is not,” McDowell said. “And I don’t know if that really provides any additional safety or not, but I think we should’ve just kept the mask mandate that we had when we returned back to school, through the summer school, until the beginning of the school year.”
Pollio said he understands that wearing masks is a controversial topic, but the school district’s sole focus is to make sure everyone is in school five days a week for the entire upcoming school year.
“All of our students in-class learning, no hybrid, for the entire school year. So maximizing that and making sure that we are focusing on that is No. 1,” Pollio said.
Pollio said that right now the current mask mandate will be in place for JCPS’s summer programs until new guidance comes out.
“If in two weeks new guidance comes out based on our current reality, we will make adjustments based on that. That’s what we’ve done for the past 18 months,” Pollio said.
On July 27, the Jefferson County Board of Education (JCBE) will vote on safety requirements, including masks for unvaccinated students and staff, for this coming school year.