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JCPS pre-K starts Sept. 25, but not everyone will get transportation

A JCPS bus driver heads out of the Detrick Bus Depot on Friday to take students to their second day of classes for the school year.
Jacob Munoz
/
LPM
A JCPS bus driver heads out of the Detrick Bus Depot on Friday to take students to their second day of classes for the school year.

Jefferson County Public Schools will bring back its youngest learners on Sept. 25, more than a month after the planned start date. Due to the ongoing transportation crisis, JCPS will only bus special education students.

In order to deal with a severe shortage of bus drivers, JCPS is rolling out a complex plan for reopening public pre-kindergarten, which serves about 2,000 three and 4-year-olds.

Families will be required to provide their own transportation, except for some students with disabilities.

The DuValle and Dawson Orman education centers will start at 9:40 a.m. and dismiss at 4:20 p.m. All other early childhood education centers will have the same start and end times as the elementary schools they are housed in.

During the first week, starting Sept. 25, JCPS will only provide transportation to pre-K students with disabilities whose individualized education plans (IEPs) specifically require transport. That’s required under federal law.

When students return after fall break on Oct. 9, JCPS will provide transportation to all students with IEPs — whether transportation accommodations are specified, or not.

All other families will have to provide their own transportation. JCPS officials are encouraging families eligible for district transportation to drive to school instead, if possible.

JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio said the district is working on a plan to provide a stipend to families who drive their own children to school. A final amount has not been decided, but Pollio said it may be around $100 a month.

“We wanted to make sure families that had some of the bigger challenges would have the ability to use this stipend to assist them,” he said.

Two-part school day

Pre-K students with disabilities who use district transportation will not be able to attend full days of school.

JCPS pickups will allow students to make it to school by 10:30 a.m. Students who use JCPS transportation on the way home will be dismissed at 1:30 p.m.

State regulations require students in the public pre-K program to receive at least 2.5 hours of instructional time. That instructional time will occur between 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m., Pollio said. District officials say the remaining hours in the morning and afternoon will be “enrichment time.”

JCPS Director of Early Childhood Education Carlisa Gibson said enrichment time will include music, art, and STEM activities, along with motor skills development, literacy, math and social-emotional skills development.

When Pollio was asked what he would say to families who need transportation but may struggle to accommodate the schedule, he said he acknowledges “it's an inconvenience, and a problem.”

“But that's what the stipend is for,” he said.

Pollio said he would bring the stipend proposal before the Jefferson County Board of Education at its Sept. 26 meeting.

He also said families may choose to use transportation one-way only. For example, a parent could utilize district transportation in the morning for a 10:30 a.m. arrival, but opt to pick up their child from school at 4:20 p.m.

Pollio said he was confident special education students would receive all the services they are entitled to during the mid-day instructional period.

To make up for the four weeks of instructional time lost due to the delayed start, Pollio said JCPS would be expand its kindergarten readiness program next summer and provide other summer activities.

With 557 school bus drivers, Pollio said the district is still short about 100 drivers. He said JCPS had to find existing drivers who could add an early childhood route during the break they usually have between their morning and afternoon runs for K-12 schools.

Those drivers will be paid at least an extra $5 an hour for picking up the route, plus overtime, Pollio said.

“So clearly we are putting, you know, our financial backing behind our bus drivers to do this,” he said.

Early childhood education centers were supposed to start more than three weeks ago on Aug. 23. But after a transportation crisis, district officials delayed the return of JCPS’ youngest learners, first telling parents the delay would last at least two weeks, and later saying the delay would be indefinite.

Parents have been frustrated with the lack of information about the program, which is funded by state and local dollars. JCPS pre-K is meant to serve all four-year-olds in the district whose families are living below 160% of the federal poverty line. That’s less than about $31,500 annual income for a two-person household. The program also holds spots for all three-year-olds with disabilities from families of any income.

Support for this story was provided in part by the Jewish Heritage Fund.

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