Kentucky's largest school district is about to reopen its doors to students.
About 95,000 Jefferson County Public Schools students are expected to arrive at 166 schools across the county Wednesday.
This is the fourth school year in a row impacted by COVID-19. This time, the contagious omicron subvariant BA.5 is causing a surge in cases and a return to universal masking inside schools.
Here are six things families need to know before heading back Wednesday:
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Expect bus delays
Around 70 school bus routes don't have bus driver ahead of the first day, district officials said.
Other drivers will run additional routes to get everyone to school, but impacted students could be late to school by 45 minutes to an hour, Superintendent Marty Pollio said.
Families are encouraged to drive their children to school or carpool in order to take some stress off of the district's bus routes, officials told reporters Friday.
More security personnel
JCPS' new security plan is going into effect, but students may see few changes.
The district's middle and high schools are expected to have a new safety administrator by the first day, spokesman Mark Hebert said. Six safety administrators will cover clusters of elementary schools.
Safety administrators are to build relationships with students and monitor potential threats inside schools. They will not be armed, and, like school security officers, are not supposed to be involved in student discipline.
District security officers, now equipped with guns, will patrol clusters of schools, but will not be stationed inside school buildings.
Masks still required
JCPS will continue to require everyone inside district properties or on school buses, regardless of their vaccination status, to wear face masks through at least the first week of school.
District policy automatically requires universal masking when Jefferson County is in the highest level for COVID-19 community spread. If Jefferson County drops into a lower level of spread, masks return to being optional.
But pushback against that policy, which was initially approved in March, nearly sparked an emergency school board meeting to make masks optional.
More than half of JCPS teachers want masks to be optional, a new survey from the teachers union found. Over one-third said they supported the universal masking policy. (Union leadership is redoing the poll after some teachers raised security concerns, but no change to the outcome is expected.)
Board members were weighing whether or not to call a special meeting to vote on changing the policy over the weekend, but opted not to schedule a meeting ahead of the first day.
The CDC is also expected to relax some of its COVID-19 guidance for schools in the coming days, potentially including changes to its mask recommendations, in the coming weeks.
Information on the number of cases and quarantines at each school will be available on the district's website.
Limited virtual learning days available
Under state law, JCPS has 10 non-traditional instruction, or NTI, days to use during the 2022-23 school year.
Those days will likely be the only option other than shutting down the district should JCPS need to deal with surging COVID-19 cases and heightened staff shortages like it did last winter. A provision offering targeted remote learning days to move individual schools or classes online expired at the end of the 2021-22 school year.
Some students may need to pay for lunch
A federal change allowing all students, regardless of household income, to receive free meals at school is over.
JCPS, though, has long offered free meals to nearly all of its schools under a separate program. Only students at nine schools will need to pay for meals in the 2022-23 school year:
duPont Manual High School
Male High School
Norton Commons Elementary
Students at those schools may still qualify for free or reduced-price meals. Families can check their eligibility for discounted meals at Myschoolapps.com.
Families with students at schools that receive free meals are encouraged to fill out an Educational Benefits Form to see if they qualify for other state or federal assistance programs.
Few Pathfinder spots available
If you want to switch your child into JCPS' virtual school, you're probably too late.
JCPS is again expecting few spots to be available in its all-virtual, K-12 school, the Pathfinder School of Innovation.
Pathfinder has roughly 2,000 students ahead of the new year, Hebert said. There are slots available for kindergartners, but none are available for other grades.
Reach Olivia Krauth at email@example.com and on Twitter at @oliviakrauth.
This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: JCPS back-to-school 2022: 6 things parents should know