Technology in public schools has allowed students to continue to learn this semester despite the difficulties presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, those students will have new responsibilities in caring for those technological devices.
The Simpson County School Board clarified those responsibilities at their meeting on Sept. 10.
This year the school district will provide Chromebooks, which are basically laptop computers, for all students in grades K-12 so that they can learn outside of class with online resources. The devices have been ordered but have not yet arrived.
In the past students had to pay an activity fee of $25 to be able to use a Chromebook that belonged to the school. Now, faced with the need to provide distance learning, the schools are waiving that fee, but students can still be held responsible if the equipment is damaged.
The new equipment has an insurance policy that includes deductibles in case of damage. Payment of the deductible is the responsibility of the user, in this case the student. For the first damage occurrence, the student will pay $25 to cover that damage. The second occurrence is $25 plus 25 percent of the cost of repair. The third occurrence is $25 plus 50 percent of the repair, and the fourth fee is the fair market value of the equipment. The Chromebooks are valued at approximately $400 each.
The Chromebooks have tracking devices located in them in order to trace lost or stolen devices. The device must be reported as lost or stolen within three days or the user can be held liable for the cost of the device according to the policy adopted by the school.
If a student leaves the district they are responsible for returning the equipment to the school district before departure.
The board also discussed requirements for students doing virtual learning by computer rather than attending any in-person classes.
According to the Mississippi Department of Education, MDE, the subject matter of a lesson, or assignments, must be turned in completed before the student is counted as present for that day’s lesson.
Board Member Lillie Hardy disagreed with the state on that point, saying that if a student does not understand the subject matter they may not be able to complete the assignments.
Superintendent Greg Paes agreed with Hardy and was to address the issue with MDE. Students who do not complete work, perhaps because of failing to understand the lesson, could adversely impact the school’s average daily attendance because they would be counted as absent for the day. Those “absences” would then affect funding for the next school year.
The federal government approved the extension of the summer meal feeding program through the end of the school year in December. That means that all students will receive free breakfast and lunch through the remainder of 2020. All students, including virtual students, may pick up meals for breakfast and lunch through a pickup line. If a student has already paid a balance for meals, those funds will be carried forward into 2021, according to Food Service Manager Joanna Maddox.
The new Director of COVID for the district, Judith Jones, told the board that the number of cases of COVID-19 is increasing daily. Mendenhall Elementary, Mendenhall Jr. High and the Career and Technical Center all reported zero cases for last week. Simpson Central reported zero positive teachers, and one student had to quarantine. Mendenhall High had zero teacher cases, and two students had to quarantine.
Magee Elementary had zero positive cases for teachers and students for the week, but five students and two teachers had to be quarantined. Magee Middle School had zero positive cases this week, but four students and three teachers had be quarantined. At Magee High School, four students tested positive. As a result, 170 students and eight staff members had to quarantine for 14 days.
Jones added that the number of deaths was small compared to the number of cases. She reported that there had been no deaths in the state in students ages 6 to 10.
She discussed the quarantine of student athletes at Magee High School, stating that they would be able to come back to school on September 21 if they are fever free without medication to prevent fever. She did add that some students who are currently on quarantine may continue their classes in the virtual environment if they have sufficient access to the internet.
One board member asked whether, since the entire district will have access to Chromebooks, that will continue to be part of the instructional practice after the pandemic. Deputy Superintendent Debbie Davis answered in the affirmative, stating that Google Classroom and other means of learning electronically would be part of the new standard.
Davis then reported that the most significant impact from student testing was in the younger age group of school children. She explained that their education is built on learning a skill and building upon that skill, and that not being in the structured environment of a classroom for so long impacted their scores more than it did at other grade levels. She said it was an expected result of last spring’s interrupted schedule with schools closing after spring break.
She said the decline was disheartening to some of the faculty and staff because they had worked so hard at showing marked improvement for those younger students, but they realized they would just have to keep presenting the teaching practices to get the younger children back on target.
Superintendent Paes announced that a ribbon cutting would be held in the next few weeks for the new Magee High School fieldhouse.
He also updated the board on the number of students registered in the district this year -- 3,159 compared to 3,450 who were registered pre-pandemic. This is a loss of 291 students.