Mississippi says schools get options for scheduling in fall

Published 10:25 pm Saturday, June 13, 2020

The Mississippi Department of Education is offering options for how schools can offer classes starting in the fall semester, with consideration for social distancing and other safety guidelines because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The department has released a plan giving school districts three options: a traditional schedule, a hybrid schedule and a virtual schedule.

The plan “outlines a three-month timeline of strategies for superintendents and principals to consider to plan for the start of the 2020-21 school year” and is “intended to be used as a resource and starting point for districts to consider local needs in collaboration with stakeholders,” department spokeswoman Jean Cook told the Clarion Ledger.
It will be updated in to adjust to changes with the COVID-19 pandemic, she said.

Jason Harris, Columbia School District superintendent, is one of nine superintendents who worked with the state to create the plans.

“This isn’t a ‘You must follow,'” Harris said. “This is just guidance that people can use as a reference when determining what is best for their district.”

Harris said that while his school district intends to have the traditional schedule, he knows some parents may not feel safe sending children to school. That’s when the hybrid schedule or virtual schedule could be used. So, for the upcoming school year, students who study from home would have the option of watching their teacher’s lesson from a classroom webcam.

The lesson would be recorded and uploaded, giving the student the option to watch it later.

“We realize that the word internet is a little bit tricky because people do have it via their phones or hot spots,” Harris said. “We know that the efficiency of it sometimes may not be what we need.”

A traditional schedule requires students to be present in school with scheduling modifications to follow CDC and Mississippi Department of Health recommendations. It includes daily screening and disinfecting protocols.

It creates a plan for serving students and adjusting duties for staff who cannot return to the building because of health issues. It also limits student movement and restricts gatherings in buildings to achieve social distancing.

A hybrid schedule combines online and face-to-face instruction. Schools must meet distance-learning requirements. Student population is divided in half, with each half reporting to school on alternating days and participating in distance learning during days scheduled at home. Fridays could be used for tutorials, professional development or help with special needs.

A virtual schedule would have distance learning, including training for teachers in giving online classes.

The Health Department said Saturday that Mississippi — with a population of about 3 million — has had at least 19,300 cases and 880 deaths from the coronavirus as of Friday evening.

The number of coronavirus infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected without feeling sick. For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up within weeks. For others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause severe symptoms and be fatal.