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Jefferson County Public Schools Unveils Racial Equity Plan For Reopening

Jefferson County Public Schools officials unveiled plans Tuesday to promote racial equity during the in-person reopening set to begin next week.

“We have to do these things if we are—and we are—serious about racial equity and serious about having equity into our schools, as they reopen,” JCPS Chief Equity Officer John Marshall said.

The racial equity plan, which staff presented to the Jefferson County Board of Education during its meeting Tuesday night, was requested by board members who had concerns the district’s plan to reopen did not prioritize the neediest students.

“We should have had this racial equity plan within the reopening schools [plan] to you,” JCPS superintendent Marty Pollio said. “Racial equity is a pillar of ours. And that should have been included in the presentation all along the way.”

Staff outlined a number of proposals they said were crafted in collaboration with community partners. They include:

  • Clearly communicating the cleaning schedule and allowing virtual and face-to-face tours of school buildings
  • Making sure high school seniors complete the FAFSA, a form which most higher education institutions use to determine how much financial aid to give applicants
  • Hiring retired school counselors to increase the number of counselors per high school
  • Recounting the homeless student population
  • Deploying extra certified staff from the district’s central office to assist at Title I schools
  • Putting nurses in schools with higher minority populations first
  • Allowing students at schools without certain high-level courses to access them virtually at other schools
  • Earmarking $3 million of CARES for racial equity training for staff
  • Offering health clinics in designated schools on weekends
  • Creating a hotline for concerns on culturally insensitive practices and racism
  • Placing a moratorium on suspension for students in Pre-K through third grade

Over the long term, Marshall said the district hopes to add online classes on Saturdays, and offer free transportation for all summer and after-school programs.

District officials also want to expand the learning hubs, or places in the community where students can go in small groups for assistance with virtual learning. JCPS learning hubs currently serve about 2,400 students. The district has about 92,000 students overall

But Pollio said he wants to increase the number of students served to 5,000, and keep the hubs open on the weekends, after school and over the summer.

District 6 board member Corrie Shull, one the board’s toughest critics of the reopening, praised staff efforts to bring forward the equity proposal. But he struggled to get concrete information from them on how it would address his original concern -- that an across-the-board reopening would not allow the district to target struggling and disadvantaged students.

“I think the plan is wonderful. But if we don't identify the students who most need those services, then it's for naught,” he said.

JCPS Chief Academic Officer Carmen Coleman said teachers will be asked to identify the neediest students once classrooms open later this month. She said struggling students whose families choose to stay virtual could be connected to the learning hubs or a free virtual tutoring service, options that have been available since the fall.

Pollio said the district will target struggling students for summer learning. That will be based on participation data from virtual schooling, or nontraditional instruction (NTI), as well as grades and standardized testing data.

JCPS will “do everything we can to get them in our summer learning program,” he said.

He suggested that staff may go door-to-door to find those students and enroll them in summer school.

Pollio said he will offer more specific information on the summer school program in April.

The phased reopening of classrooms begins on March 17 with grades kindergarten through second grade. Grades 3-5 begin March 18, and Pre-K begins March 22. Middle and high school students can return to the classroom on April 5.

Almost all in-person students will be offered two days a week in the building and three days remote. Students with disabilities will be offered four days a week in person, and one day remote. You can find more details here.

Pay Increases Approved

The board approved temporary pay increases for a number of positions in an attempt to address staffing shortages. JCPS will use federal coronavirus relief funding to make the following pay raises:

  • Bus drivers for students with special needs: additional $3.50 per hour through May 28, 2021
  • Summer bus drivers: additional $6.00 per hour from May 29, 2021 to June 30, 2021
  • Custodians: additional $3.50 per hour through June 30, 2021
  • Some nutrition services workers: additional $3.50 an hour through June 30, 2021
  • Substitute teachers: additional $20 a day through June 30, 2021
  • Various raises for substitute non-teaching staff

The district is facing a critical shortage of bus drivers, custodians, substitute teachers and school nurses. Critics of the reopening plan say those deficits will impact the success of the plan to bring students back into schools.

Jess Clark is LPMs Education and Learning Reporter. Email Jess at jclark@lpm.org.

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