November 23, 2020

Mississippi private schools question legitimacy of state mandate to report COVID-19 cases

Mississippi’s largest association of private schools said it questions the legitimacy and efficacy of the state’s requirement to report positive COVID-19 cases to the Mississippi Department of Health.

The Midsouth Association of Independent Schools (MAIS) issued a statement Thursday explaining why it does not encourage its schools to report the number of positive COVID-19 cases in its schools.

“Unlike state schools, independent schools are not agents of the state. They are small businesses that happen to be in the business of teaching children,” MAIS said in a statement it issued on social media Wednesday. “As such, they relate to the government in the way any other small business does. No other Mississippi small businesses are required to report hearsay evidence of “positive cases’ to MSDH on a weekly basis.”

In its statement, MAIS said the only reliable reporting is in the medical community and not with its schools which do not test students and only hear about positive cases through its customers — its students and parents.

On Aug. 14 the Mississippi State Department of Health issued an order requiring all public and private schools to report COVID-19 cases to the department. Since then MSDH has been receiving sporadic reporting from private schools in the state.

MSDH director Dr. Thomas Dobb said that some private schools have sent their COVID-19 data directly to the department while others have chosen to send their information to MAIS. MAIS favors posting their own data that includes a total number of cases across all the schools rather than a school by school breakdown.

Here is the statement from MAIS in its entirety:

“The Midsouth Association of Independent Schools exists to certify the academic integrity of member schools and to promote the development and freedoms of independent schools in the Midsouth. The strength of MAIS schools’ safety protocols is proven by zero student hospitalizations and the low number of weekly reported “positive cases.” Member schools are transparent with their patrons regarding COVlD-19 protocols and case reports, and the Association provides aggregate “positive case“ numbers directly to MSDH and to the public through social media. Unfortunately, the greater concern is the more significant issues that will be around long after COVlD-19 is a memory. Unlike state schools, independent schools are not agents of the state. They are small businesses that happen to be in the business of teaching children. As such, they relate to the government in the way any other small business does. No other Mississippi small businesses are required to report hearsay evidence of “positive cases’ to MSDH on a weekly basis. The Governor and MSDH concurrently require doctors and clinics to report first-hand, direct evidence of “positive cases”; these are the logical choices for reporting. Small businesses, including independent schools, have no first—hand knowledge of positive cases that pass through their doors; the best they can do is report what customers report to them. The only reliable source for tracking “positive cases” is the medical community that performs and reads the tests. if the medical community is already reporting to the state, MSDH is already getting the best, first-hand information. Requiring one sector of small businesses to report hearsay is redundant at best. With the fractional number of “positive cases~ reported to independent schools and the complexity of contact tracing in a multifaceted society that questions whether any of the cases reported can be attributed unequivocally to the operations of schools in comparison to every other business operation, MAIS questions the legitimacy and efficacy of the state‘s reporting requirements.”