County school parents overwhelmingly support traditional schedule

Union County Superintendent of Schools Russell Taylor
July 14th, 2020     County Schools

Nearly nine out of 10 Union County school parents who responded to a survey want their children back in traditional school this fall.

County Superintendent Russell Taylor said that is what they are going to get. “It will be a traditional schedule, but with lots of safety measures,” he said. However, an option will be available for parents who are uncomfortable sending their children. “We are offering distance learning to those who ask,” he added.

“We have looked at the research, the American Association to Pediatrics, worked with the Mississippi State Department of Health and Mississippi Department of Education and felt the best option was back to school,” he said.

The district sent surveys to parents and staff, with about two-thirds of them responding. Slightly more than 87 percent were in favor of the traditional schedule.

“Our kids have been out quite a while and would greatly benefit being in front of a teacher,” he said. In-person school will help address concerns about instruction, mental health and nutrition.

Precautionary measures will include social spacing, hygiene lessons and checking temperatures of students and staff at the school.

“Staff will be required to wear masks when they can’t practice social distancing,” Taylor said. “We strongly recommend that students wear masks. We do not require it.”

The superintendent said there will be routine cleaning throughout the day and buses will be cleaned before and after every route.

“We’re not going to have large gatherings,” he said. Classes will be allowed breaks to get out of their rooms, but the breaks will be staggered to cut down on exposure. Taylor said school officials are finding alternate places on the campuses for students to eat and spread out, although weather may limit some of this.

Concerning meals, Taylor said they plan to start the year with sack lunches and then move to take-out containers. Meals probably will be carried to the youngest students, though, and breakfast probably will be eaten in the classroom where the first class is to be held each day.

“We’ve bought a lot of foggers, disinfectants, plenty of cleaning supplies,” he continued. “We will focus on high touch areas.”

Hand sanitizing dispensers will be widely available and will be on every bus. There will be screening questions on the buses also. All water fountains are being retrofitted to become bottle fillers only, with students allowed to bring their own bottles. Traffic lanes will be marked in the halls.

Going along with state recommendations, the county district is planning to deal with three levels of coronavirus spread: low, moderate and substantial, the latter which means classes cancelled for a week or more. Those levels will be determined in conjunction with local and state officials.

As long as the spread is low the schools can be held more or less traditionally. If the spread is substantial, schools may be closed for a week or longer with reliance on distance learning.

In the case of a moderate spread they will use the hybrid plan. For Union County, this means half the students attending classes in person in the morning and the other half in the afternoon. The students will continue with distance learning when they are not in the classroom.

“That would mean more bus routes, and take meticulous planning,” Taylor said. There also could be issues with siblings in different grades.

Regardless of whether traditional classes or distance learning is used, teachers are having to do extra instructional work. “I commend our teachers,” he said. “They have been working really hard to prepare courses on line.”

Of course officials hope they will be able to stick with the traditional plan. Internet access presents a problem, likely more out in the county than in town. Also, “Zoom is not the same as in person,” he said.

Taylor estimates only about 50 percent of the county students have internet good enough to meet needs for distance learning. To combat this, officials will provide wifi hot spots throughout the district.

“Hot spots don’t work everywhere,” he said, adding they have scouted many locations such as churches and where to park buses. A map of wifi hot spot locations will be available on the district’s return to school web page. The educators are also beefing up their wifi at the schools themselves to be available after 3:30 p.m.

Taylor said it is too early to tell about sports, although some practice has started. “They will be under Mississippi High School Athletics Association guidelines,” he said. “We are waiting to see what the season will look like.”

The governor’s orders concerning crowd size will be used at sports events for now, at least, and Taylor said he hopes to hear something about sports soon.

While the schools will not be on absolute lockdown, they will restrict access to visitors, allowing only something essential. Even that will be limited and visitors screened. “There will be a lot of precaution,” he reiterated.

In the event a student or staff member shows symptoms of the coronavirus, he or she will be isolated. If a student has a temperature of 100.3 or higher, that student will be sent home and cannot return to class for at least 24 hours and must have a doctor’s note. Alternately, the student may self-quarantine for 14 days.

Registration for students starts the week of July 20, two weeks preceding school. School resumes for teachers Aug. 3 and for students Aug. 6.

Taylor said during the first week of school students will be screened for retention of prior learning, and additional intervention will be used to close gaps.

In a letter to parents, Taylor said, “It is our belief that we can navigate the challenges faced by COVID-19 under the current circumstances with a traditional school opening using our existing school calendar.”

“Things change daily. I am proud of all the hard work and effort,” he said.

“We have an opportunity to help our students through this time and get them back in school safely,” he said. “We’re looking forward to being able to get our kids with us.”

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