OPINION: Pollio and Fischer need to do more


Molly Gregory

JCPS resumed non-traditional instruction (NTI) on Tuesday due to the recent COVID-19 Omicron spread. Graphic by Molly Gregory

Jayvon Rankin

It is now thoroughly evident that the Omicron variant has taken over public discourse and is having an adverse effect on nearly everyone. President Biden has said that there is no “federal solution [and] this gets solved at the state level,” only reinforcing the grim prospects of any new aid from the federal government. Federal relief funds for restaurants and other service businesses have been floated, but no definite legislative decisions have been made and the White House itself continues to remain non-committal on any new Covid-19 relief spending.

That being said, now more than ever is the time for JCPS superintendent Dr. Marty Pollio and Louisville’s mayor Greg Fischer to step up and get their COVID-19 houses in order.  There are critical, much-needed steps and solutions that can be presented and implemented by both these community leaders — steps and solutions that can help curb the spread of the Covid-19 Omicron variant within both Louisville and in JCPS schools. 

Let us begin with Metro Louisville. It is true that Fischer has implemented a mask mandate for all Metro Louisville government buildings, but that is not enough.  While it’s true that there is reduced transmission due to the preventative steps set out by mask mandates, not nearly as many people are actually going into those buildings as opposed to other places around the city. 

It is well established law that state and local governments, as part of their “police powers,” have great leeway in protecting the public safety and can implement measures that set out to do so.  For starters, Fischer should implement, by way of his executive authority, a city-wide mask mandate that must be followed by businesses, and if not properly followed the city government officials should have the power to enforce the policy. The data has pointed towards reduced spread and transmission when there are mask mandates implemented by all levels of government—be that federal, state or local. 

Furthermore, with his broad executive powers, Fischer should implement a vaccine verification program. This is where an individual must show proof of their vaccination status. If a person wants to visit a local store, restaurant or government building they should be able to show they are vaccinated and are not putting the community and others at risk.

 The city of Chicago started their vaccination verification program on Jan. 3 for indoor dining, indoor fitness, indoor entertainment and recreation facilities where food and beverages are served. Additionally, there should be a steep non-compliance penalty if any business refuses to comply.

To be serious about stopping the spread, the mayor should publicly push people to get vaccinated. This would be a major step to showing that Louisville and its government are prepared to take on this new wave of Covid-19. 

With that being said, JCPS also has a crucial role in the equation. Pollio has taken many great strides to help reduce the spread within JCPS schools and the Louisville community. According to the Courier Journal’s JCPS Covid Dashboard, my school, duPont Manual, has 57 active student Covid-19 cases and two student quarantines.

That may not sound like a lot, but considering how fast and easily the virus spreads, this could clearly become a much larger problem. It’s safe to assume we better start getting more serious sooner rather than later. Pollio has developed a perfect first step by opening up the JCPS testing sites, and those sites, no matter how overwhelmed, are doing a great service to the students and staff in JCPS; but, more must be done. 

Just yesterday, Pollio announced that JCPS would be resuming Non-Traditional Instruction (NTI) on January 11. I applaud this step and am grateful that he took this recent surge seriously and is making sure both students and staff are safe,  as well as the broader community. 

It’s well known that NTI, in many ways, was detrimental to students. However, protecting the physical health of students and staff during a raging pandemic is more important. It’s also crucial to consider the district’s level of preparation this time around, another factor which would most likely improve students’ NTI experiences. We as a school district have already experienced this rodeo once before and understand the implication of such. We understand how this will work and what can be done to potentially mitigate those same issues previously had. The NTI of today would not be the NTI of yesterday. 

Even more, Pollio and the board need to grow a spine and finally take a shot back at the state legislature. The Republican-controlled state legislature has treated JCPS as a less important and worse school district than others in the state for too long — trying to implement a mass “state takeover” of JCPS; taking targeted measures to cripple JCPS; threatening funding cuts; taking power away from local school boards; and much more. But we should not be scared of them. 

The ten measly COVID NTI days are not enough to effectively get this virus under control within JCPS and it really constrains the decision-making of our local policymakers.  If I were Pollio and the board, I would simply ignore the state legislature and if needed, use as many days until Covid-19 can be properly handled within our district. 

Some may see this a radical step and even contravene the principle of rule of law, but lives are at risk and steps need to be taken to address that by any means necessary. If Republican legislators would be so petty as to strip funding for JCPS, there would be mass consequences that they’d have to explain. Students would not be going to school, critical health and mental health services would be unavailable and many thousands of jobs would either be significantly reduced or even lost, all of which would be detrimental to a sound public school system — a school system that happens to be the largest in the state and one of the largest in the country. Things are going to have to look a little different for us than others across the state. 

In the end, as a democratic society, we must petition our representatives and leaders, make sure our voices are heard and fight for the change we strive to see. Mayor Fischer and Dr. Pollio have great influence and power to make significant change and progress in regard to the Covid-19 Omicron variant.  The time for definite action is now.