As Delta pops up, JCPS virtual school runs out of space

Families worried about the health risks of sending their children to in-person classes at Jefferson County public schools have few options now that the district is running out of space at JCPS’s only all-virtual school.

Data obtained by WFPL shows that more than a thousand students were on the waiting list after JCPS announced on August 19 that its online Pathfinder School of Innovation was full.

“We have over 3,000 students enrolled and this exceeds the number of students we originally anticipated,” read a post on the district’s website.

District leaders say a shortage of teachers has forced them to halt enrollment. Data obtained by WFPL shows that the school has enrolled 3,115 students and 1,089 students were on the waiting list as of August 20.

JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio said the district suspended enrollment because it struggled to hire enough staff to meet demand.

“We are facing a shortage of teachers as it is right now,” he said. “If we take a teacher from a school into Pathfinder, it creates a vacancy in a school.”

In the spring, JCPS, like most school districts in Kentucky, planned to return to a more or less “normal” school year this fall. COVID-19 vaccination rates were up, infections were down, and state lawmakers passed Bill 208, which required districts to return to full in-person learning capacity by fall. . It also limited districts to 10 non-traditional instruction days, or NTI days, if they want to transition to district-wide remote learning.

JCPS decided to expand its existing virtual school, Jefferson County High School, for families not yet ready for in-person learning. He renamed the school Pathfinder School of Innovation and expanded its offerings from high school to lower levels.

By early June, only a few hundred students had signed up for Pathfinder, which at the time was only offered to students in grades 6 through 12. But in late July and early August, the delta variant of COVID-19 began to rise. Epidemiologists have warned that more children and young people are at risk of infectionespecially since those under 12 were too young to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

The demand for virtual learning has increased. Early August, the Jefferson County Board of Education has voted to extend online school through kindergarten. Within days, 1,207 new primary school students had applied. College applications rose to 663 and high school applications to 977. Applications continued to pour in.

Pollio says students on the waitlist can still enter the program if the district finds more staff.

“We don’t tell them no. We just need to make sure we have the staff who can support the students as we progress,” he said.

Until then, more than 1,000 families on the waiting list have no choice but to send their children in person.

As of Sunday afternoon, nearly 6,500 JCPS students have been quarantined since the start of the school year and more than 1,300 have tested positive for COVID-19. Quarantined students do not register with Pathfinder, but complete assignments and talk to teachers remotely, similar to what students did during NTI.

Perry A. Thomasson