Gov. Tate Reeves announced Tuesday the starting date of grades 7 through 12 would be delayed two weeks for a handful of counties, including Coahoma, due to a high COVID-19 count.
The executive order, which does not have the effect of law, will not impact the starting date of the 2020-21 academic year for any local public schools as both had already pushed openings back at least two weeks.
Reeves requested delays in counties with more than 200 cases and 500 per 100,000 in the last two weeks. Several times in Tuesday’s announcement he said the final decision would rest with local school boards.
“I read over 598 pages over the weekend and have weighted two things,” said Reeves in making his announcement, “the impact of the virus on our children and the lifelong damage to their education.”
Reeves pointed out students, especially in poverty-ridden areas actually see their education regress over the summer break. He said students have now been out of school five months – longer than any children in the history of Mississippi.
Reeves said young people tend to weather a bout with coronavirus better than older adults. He also pointed to school cafeterias that feed children during the school year, the supervision they get at school and taking a burden off working parents.
Reeves said children and teachers will be required to wear masks, social distance and report to school nurses at the first sign of COVID-19 symptoms.
“I firmly believe this decision today gives local schools options to do what’s best for kids,” Reeves said. “Hopefully those schools that cannot open safely will delay until at least Aug. 17.”
Clarksdale Municipal School District
The Clarksdale Municipal School District will begin the 2020-21 year with all virtual learning and plans to work its way into having everyone back on campus.
CMSD superintendent Dr. Earl Joe Nelson said the governor’s decision would not dramatically affect the district.
“When the governor spoke, he spoke about pushing school back for 7 to 12 and not starting for two weeks later,” said Nelson. “Based on the date we already rolled out, it’s already two weeks back. We already have the two weeks in our plan.”
Nelson was expecting something different from Reeves on Tuesday.
“I don’t disagree with it (Reeves’ decision),” Nelson said. “I was just kind of looking for him to push the date back to Labor Day or right before Labor Day.”
Nelson said the plan is still to start football season Sept. 4. The original starting date was Aug. 21, but the Mississippi High School Activities Association delayed it two weeks.
Teachers will be in school one week prior to the start of virtual learning.
“They’re going to start Aug. 10, but they won’t have kids,” Nelson said. “We will be doing professional development during that timeframe.”
Teachers’ pay will be paid for the normal contract dates.
“They get paid all the way through the month of June and then their new contracts pick up in the month of July,” Nelson said.
Nelson said the decisions in place are for the safety of both students and teachers and follow the advice of the Center for Disease Control.
“They (teachers) have to go home to their families, too, and be safe as well. We want to limit the opportunity for them to get the virus,” Nelson said.
Nelson said teachers will be wearing masks and face shields. He added there will be machines to kill germs in the air, on doorknobs and desks, hand sanitizer will be in every room and everyone on campus will have personal water bottles.
More information on the district’s plan can be found at https://www.cmsdschools.org/
Coahoma County School District
The Coahoma County School District had already planned to begin the year with the hybrid model of learning where students were on campus some days.
The starting date was pushed back to Aug. 24 before Reeves spoke Tuesday.
“I watched the numbers every day, so I had already made the change,” said CCSD Interim superintendent Dr. Ilean Richards.
Richards said the football season is still scheduled to start Sept. 4.
Richards did not question the governor’s decision.
“Because I’m a decision maker myself, I don’t want to second guess the governor,” Richards said. “It’s not a matter of whether I agree or disagree. Everything is based upon circumstances.”
Richards said the teachers will report to school on Aug. 17 and their pay will not change.
“We don’t anticipate that and we have not been told otherwise,” Richards said. “That is a state decision. That is not a local decision.”
Richards said teachers are contracted for 187 days between July and June.
At first, Richards said the teachers’ responsibilities could be tougher than usual.
“I think in the long run, it will balance out, but I think in the beginning, it’s going to be a learning curve for the teacher and the student,” she explained. “We just ask people to be patient as we deal with this new reality as how we approach teaching and learning. I’m sure there will be some hiccups along the way.”
CCC and CECHS
Coahoma Community College and Coahoma Early College High School also planned to begin classes on Aug. 17 with a hybrid model of learning.
CCC’s final exams will be Nov. 18 to 20 prior to Thanksgiving break.
According to CCC chief communications officer Marriel Hardy, Reeves’ mandate would not require junior colleges to make any changes. However, he said it is a possibility the announcement could cause some changes.
“Preliminary thoughts are that this order does not apply to post-secondary institutions,” Hardy said. “Thus, it does not hold any bearing on our current plans, including football at the moment.
CCC faculty and staff will fully report back on August 10.
“In these unprecedented times, we all have to be change-agile,” Hardy said. “We are committed to providing a quality education in a safe environment for our students. Things will, indeed, look different this fall semester, but what won't change is our dedication to our students and the community in which we serve. We have temperature scanners in place, social distancing floor decals, policies and procedures and many other PPE (personal protective equipment) items to ensure the health and wellness of our campus community.”