Comparing Kentucky’s Largest Districts’ COVID-19 Responses

In collaboration with duPont Manual’s On The Record, we look at how Lexington and Louisville are adjusting to non-traditional instruction.

Fayette County Public Schools (FCPS) and Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) are the largest school districts in our state. How have they responded to the COVID-19 pandemic? Let’s take a look at different issues and how each district handled them. (Note: consider the population of and challenges faced by each district. Over 60% of JCPS students are eligible for free and reduced lunch, and 49% of students qualify in FCPS.)

Ending the school year

FCPS, like JCPS, followed Governor Beshear’s recommendation on April 20 to end in-person instruction for the remainder of the year. FCPS will also complete classes on May 27 this year, the same day as JCPS.

JCPS, like FCPS, followed Governor Beshear’s recommendation on April 20 to end in-person instruction for the remainder of the year. JCPS will also complete classes on May 27 this year, the same day as FCPS.

Instruction

FCPS is printing NTI packets that can be picked up at schools or were mailed to students. FCPS’s Paul Laurence Dunbar High School announced in an email on April 23 that “final exams will not be given for the 2020 spring semester.” Additionally, PLD is similar to JCPS in that it “will assess students using the grading procedures set by the SBDM council; however, no students will be assigned an ‘F’ or failing grade for the spring 2020 semester.  Students will receive an incomplete ‘I’ and will be given an opportunity to recover through a variety of options on a case by case basis.”

JCPS has advised teachers to rely on Google Classroom as the main source of communication with students. Virtual instruction can be given through Google Meets, but should be recorded for students to view at a later time. If you’re confused about how NTI works, you can visit the online support portal here for tutorials and access to each school’s NTI page. Paperwork packets are now available at 14 emergency food sites. View the list here. Work packets can be returned at any emergency food site.

Grading

FCPS: “Each school is communicating academic expectations directly with families, but I want to assure you that work done during NTI will not lower any student’s grade. We will provide plenty of flexibility to help students complete work and allow safety nets for students who need additional help,” FCPS Superintendent Manny Caulk said on April 20 in an email to parents.

JCPS: According to a parent letter from JCPS on April 20, the elementary and middle school curricula will be evaluated on a “met” and “not yet met” system. High schoolers, however, can receive letter grades for their work. Many have criticized the choice to keep the current system during a national crisis, while others appreciate the opportunity to raise their grades. Non-participation will result in an incomplete, and will not harm grades.

Technology

FCPS has set up a temporary hotline to help students and parents with NTI-related issues. You can reach them from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays at (859) 381-4410. “As far as how Chromebooks are being distributed, that’s up to each school,” Mrs. Kim Overstreet, PLD technology resource teacher, said. “Some FCPS schools are not distributing any Chromebooks at all, and others are giving on a need basis, while a few were already one to one.”  FCPS’s technology department is providing online platform training for teachers in addition to many other school-specific requests. FCPS did not respond to our inquiries.

JCPS faces a unique ‘digital divide’, as Superintendent Dr. Marty Pollio has dubbed it. The district is the largest in the state with nearly 100,000 students, and at least 20,000 needed a Chromebook from the district to complete virtual instruction. JCPS is working to raise funds for more in the future. JCPS had 25,000 to allot, so the remaining 5,000 will go into a lottery system for any student, regardless of their enrollment in the free and reduced lunch program. Additionally, Spectrum is extending two months of free internet nationwide as part of an initiative that began March 16. Call (844) 488-8395 to apply for the offer. Paper packets of work can be picked up at these emergency food sites. If you’re having technical issues other than the need for a Chromebook, you can contact JCPS NTI support here.

Meals

FCPS had made some efforts to provide for students with meal drop-off sites using the county’s bus routes. This was suspended on March 26 after a member of the Transportation Department who was involved in handing out meals tested positive for COVID-19. Although the meal routes had been suspended, FCPS opened meal pick-up sites on April 13 at 21 schools, limited to twice per week.

As of April 20, JCPS has served over 500,000 meals at over 60 emergency food sites across the district open for breakfast and lunch every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. However, the number of students receiving meals is only a fraction of what’s regularly served during school hours, which has caused some concern among JCPS officials. There are currently 60,000 JCPS students enrolled in the free and reduced lunch program, but only a fraction are actually getting food from JCPS.

Graduation, prom, and other senior activities

FCPS: “We do not know what the next six weeks will look like for our community, but we do know how important these traditions are for our students, staff, and families. Please be assured that we are actively exploring possible ways to safely celebrate the end of the school year and the accomplishments of our amazing young people. We will continue to share information as it becomes available,” Superintendent Manny Caulk said in the email. While nothing is finalized, PLD is beginning to plan a virtual graduation ceremony. In addition to this, PLD will distribute signs to seniors on April 26.

JCPS: While Superintendent Dr. Marty Pollio has promised seniors in-person graduation, Governor Andy Beshear said in his April 20 update that any large gathering, including a commencement ceremony, “threatens the health of our communities.” Some Kentucky schools are getting creative with ways to honor senior athletes. The bipartisan passage of Senate Bill 158 changed the requirements for next year’s graduates (current juniors), including the elimination of state testing to graduate. However, no word has come from the district about changing requirements for the class of 2020 as of the time of writing