LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Jefferson County Public Schools will keep its mask mandate following the passage of a new law allowing districts to decide their own policy.

What You Need To Know

  • Kentucky lawmakers passed a bill removing any statewide mask mandate, giving school districts the option to implement them

  • The mask requirement for Jefferson County Public Schools will stay in effect

  • JCPS superintendent Marty Pollio said he's concerned about not having enough flexibility with remote learning days

  • Pollio will take advantage of the added flexibility lawmakers gave schools to hire retired teachers to fill staffing shortages

JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio said there are some helpful aspects to the new education bill passed by lawmakers Thursday, like more flexibility to fill job openings with retired teachers.  

“That’s going to be a difference maker for us,” Pollio said. “We are going to actively recruit our retired teachers.”

But there is a lot he's worried about with SB 1, like how remote learning is handled. The bill only gives districts 20 days per semester if a school needs to close due to a COVID outbreak, on top of the 10 NTI days each district normally gets for district closures.

The remote learning days are tied to the district, so if one of the 150 schools JCPS operates has to close due to a COVID-19 outbreak on a certain day, the entire district would only have 19 more to work with.

Pollio said there’s no clear guidance on how to keep schools open, either.  

“I can tell you right now, we send central office certified staff to schools to help support, keep open, cover things that schools might need, so it’s really been all hands on deck with all of the quarantining to continue in-person school,” he said.

Pollio likes the “test and stay” policy, where kids who have been exposed to COVID-19 but test negative can stay in class, but thousands of students in the district have had to quarantine at some point already this year.

“You also have to have the capacity to test that many students on a daily basis,” Pollio said. “So for me, anything that can safely keep kids in school, I’m a proponent of. But for us, over the next two weeks, it’s just going to be another major hurdle of how we implement that.”

The bill passed late Thursday night despite a veto by Gov. Andy Beshear. He said the bill contradicts itself by giving districts control of mask policies but not with virtual learning.

“You’re either for local control or you’re not,” Beshear said. “You can’t be both for and against it in the same bill.”

Kentucky Education Commissioner Jason Glass said the statewide mask mandate shouldn’t have been lifted, but many districts around the state have decided to keep theirs in place for now.  

“We all want to get to a place where masks and all of these virus mitigation strategies are no longer necessary, but that is not today,” he said.

Pollio said JCPS will still require masks.  

“I stand up for all the educators in the commonwealth of Kentucky,” he said. “I wouldn’t want any of them to go into a classroom without masks. The same goes for students.”

But he’s worried about the pressure other districts will face to ease rules designed to keep kids safe.