While parents are perusing aisles for clothes and supplies for the new school year, officials from both local public school districts have plans in place for a return to normalcy when classes resume next week.
The first day for students attending Senatobia Municipal Schools and Tate County Schools is Thursday, Aug. 5. Teachers in both districts return for professional development Monday, Aug. 2, in preparation for the 2021-22 school year.
Magnolia Heights School will officially open its doors for students Friday, Aug. 6.
The 2020-21 school year was anything but normal as school officials scrambled to make changes and update protocols to keep students safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Mississippi State Board of Education passed a policy earlier this month stating schools, including the ones in Senatobia and Tate County, must return to in-person or traditional classroom settings as the primary mode of learning in the 2021-2022 school year.
The Tate County and Senatobia Municipal School Districts have released detailed “Return to School” plans that are available for viewing on their respective websites at tatecountyschools.org and senatobiaschools.com
Points of emphasis in both plans include a full day school schedule, a full-time nurse at each school, masks are not be required, students are encouraged to bring their own water and all students are eligible for free breakfast and lunch due to a waiver from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Those plans could change if any future directives are issued from the Mississippi Department of Health.
State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs has expressed concerns about a “surge of cases in kids” as a result of the spread of the Delta variant of COVID-19. Seven minors across the state were hospitalized last week after becoming infected with the variant.
Gov. Tate Reeves has signaled he will not be issuing any mandates regarding masks or other COVID-19 protocols in schools, so Mississippi districts are left to grapple with what restrictions to put in place in a state where only 31% of the population is vaccinated. Of that, just 6% of children ages 12-15 and 12% of kids ages 16-17 are fully vaccinated, according to MSDH.
The Mississippi Department of Health required districts to report COVID infection data to the state on a weekly basis during the school year, and though not every district complied each week, the last report showed at least 6,083 students, teachers and staff contracted the virus in 2021. In any given week during the school year, thousands of students and teachers were forced to quarantine because of exposure to the virus.
This year there are no delayed start dates or mask mandate, and recent guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control urge schools to fully reopen. The CDC also recommends that unvaccinated individuals and children under 12 should continue wearing masks. Schools should also try to make sure people stay at least three feet from each other whenever possible.
State epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers said the Department of Health will be issuing “Mississippi-specific” components of the new CDC guidance for schools, but it is unclear when.
Byers highlighted important practices for districts to use this Fall to keep schools safe: mask wearing for unvaccinated people; screening testing when someone has been exposed to COVID-19; proper ventilation; hand washing and respiratory etiquette; staying home while sick and getting tested; contact tracing in combination with quarantine and isolation; and finally, cleaning and disinfection.
He also told school officials that fully vaccinated students and staff are not required to quarantine or be tested after coming in contact with an infected person.
But for those who are unvaccinated and are exposed to a positive individual, the unvaccinated person can stay in school if he or she submits to testing every two days for a seven-day period and does not develop any symptoms.
Byers said schools should encourage students, faculty and staff to get vaccinated, as “vaccination is currently the leading public health prevention strategy to end the COVID-19 pandemic” and is “one of the most critical strategies to help schools safely reopen full operations”.