An official plan is in place for reopening public schools; however, the start date is delayed from August 7 until August 10 for students.
While the school board approved the plan to re-open, they did so with the caveat that if the situation in Simpson County worsens in relation to COVID-19 the start of students in the classroom may be delayed again until after Labor Day.
Dr. Robert Sanders, assistant superintendent for Human Resources and Secondary Curriculum, presented the reopening plan on behalf of Superintendent Greg Paes. The reason for the extension was to give the district flexibility to implement needed changes on short notice without requiring board action and another meeting. At this point any outside changes would come either from Gov. Tate Reeves, the Center for Disease Control or the Mississippi State Department of Health. The board agreed to allow the administration to use discretion in regard to mandated changes.
The current reopening plan calls for a split schedule of students returning to the classroom this fall. Group A will be students with last names starting with A-L and Group B will be for students with M-Z.
A-L group will attend classes on Mondays and Wednesdays. M-Z group will attend classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Fridays will be used for students in the lower quartile of performance who need remediation.
Students will also have the option of distance learning but will need to have access to the internet as well as equipment that allows them to function on line and in time.
Any parents wishing to participate in this manner will need to sign a waiver by Friday, July 31. Students who choose the virtual attendance option will not be allowed to participate in extra-curricular activities on campus, including sports and band.
The board said that parents need to check their students daily for fever or other symptoms to ensure their safety and health. Students will be checked in groups upon arrival.
Students should wear face masks. Sanitizer will be provided and social distancing will be implemented.
Staff and faculty will have the option of masking or using face shields while instructing students.
If a student becomes ill at school, parents will be notified to pick the child up. If the illness is determined to be COVID-19 related, students will be expected to stay home at least three days or until they have no fever for 48 hours and have had no medicine during that time period.
The board learned that some districts are pushing start dates back until after Labor Day, which is September 7.
In Simpson County the two days of delay in school opening must be made up, one during January and one in February. Adjustments will be made if the opening day is pushed back further.
Several issues were brought up by board members.
Lillie Hardy requested that they be notified on a timely basis of active COVID cases in the schools to allow the board to make informed decisions.
Board President Danny Cowart said he is expecting to have bi-monthly updates on student learning, safe school incident reports and reports on how new processes are affecting learning.
Superintendent Paes requested that the school district purchase thermal cameras to allow multiple students to have their temperatures taken at one time and identify when students may be suffering from coronavirus. The cost of the equipment for the different sites around the county is estimated to be $121,000.
The board delayed approval upon a recommendation of board member Stan Bulger, who wanted to find out what other nearby districts are doing for this issue.