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JCPS Issues New Mask Policy For Unvaccinated Students, Staff

Liz Schlemmer

Jefferson County Public Schools is now requiring students and staff who are not fully vaccinated against COVID-19 to wear masks inside school buildings. 

In a letter to JCPS families posted on the district’s website Sunday, officials said they are following new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

"Our concern for our students, our families and our staff has been at the center of every decision we have made connected to COVID-19. We have used, and will continue to use, guidance from state and national medical experts about the safest path forward," the letter reads.

Masks will not be required while outside on JCPS property, according to the letter.

The updated policy will apply to students and staff on school buses during summer programming. Officials say the new mask policy will remain in effect through the end of summer learning.

JCPS had been allowing students, both vaccinated and unvaccinated, to go without masks during summer learning. JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio said the district dropped the mask requirement when Gov. Andy Beshear ended nearly all coronavirus restrictions and the Kentucky Department of Education followed suit, dropping its masking and distancing requirements. The CDC however, was still recommending universal masking in K-12 settings through the end of the 2020-2021 school year. Pollio said he was following the state’s lead when he dropped the mask requirement earlier this summer.

Now, Pollio said, the CDC has given schools “clear” guidance.

“There's not a lot of ambiguity about those statements made by the CDC moving forward,” Pollio said during a press conference Monday.

Friday’s CDC guidance says, “Mask use is recommended for people who are not fully vaccinated including students, teachers, and staff,” for indoor K-12 settings.

“I don’t know how many times I’ve stood up here or at a board meeting and said that ‘None of us are epidemiologists.’ ... We have to rely on the experts,” Pollio said.

There are about 6,500 students participating in in-person summer programs. Most are under age 12, and are therefore ineligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine. The JCPS policy change comes as the more-contagious Delta variant of COVID-19 is causing a rise in cases in unvaccinated people. 

Pollio said the district is still considering what kind of mask policy to put in place in the fall. Decisions around masks, distancing and other COVID containment measures will be up to districts—at least for now.

“At this time, local decisions related to COVID-19 prevention strategies during the 2021-2022 school year remain with your districts,” a weekly email from Kentucky Education Commissioner Jason Glass, sent Monday, reads.

The CDC says there are instances in which districts may consider universal masking, regardless of vaccination status. For example, the CDC says universal masking may be a good option if a high percentage of students are not vaccinated (such as in elementary schools) or if community transmission of COVID-19 is particularly high.

The Jefferson County Board of Education is scheduled to vote on whether the district will require masks for the start of the 2021-22 school year at its July 27 meeting.