UPDATE: This story has been updated to reflect changes to the Madison County reopening plan.
Across Mississippi, public schools are making plans to reopen in the fall despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Local school districts are all making their own preparations and putting health, social distancing and other protocols into place to prepare for the attempt to return to in-person learning for students after months of school closures.
Recently, the Hinds County School District Board of Trustees approved the district's reopening plan for the 2020-2021 school year, which will have all district schools tentatively reopening on Monday, Aug. 10, with safety measures in place for students, faculty and staff. The Hinds County reopening plan includes options for virtual, in-person and hybrid learning for children.
As a measure to safeguard health at schools, staff will conduct daily temperature checks of everyone entering school buildings and will require anyone riding on school buses or entering a building to wear masks or face coverings, with limited medical exceptions. Staff members will sanitize all classrooms, common areas and buses daily. HCSD is also asking parents to purchase masks and hand sanitizer of their own to prepare for the reopening.
HCSD will stock hand sanitizer in each classroom and every building and will conduct regularly scheduled handwashing for all students and staff. Students will stay in the same classroom the whole day and teachers will rotate to classes instead. All schools will have strict social-distancing rules in place for hallways and common areas, and students will eat meals in their classrooms or outside when possible rather than in the cafeteria. Buses will run at reduced
capacity, with a maximum of 30 students per bus.
As part of a partnership with Jackson Hinds Comprehensive Medical Clinic, HCSD is also setting up clinics that can perform COVID-19 tests in every school. School officials will identify possible cases, isolate any positive COVID-19 cases detected and conduct contact tracing in collaboration with the Mississippi State Department of Health, a release from HCSD says.
The district is currently registering parents for upcoming meetings with homeroom teachers in small groups, where faculty will distribute information on children's classes and on accessing the digital platform and tools HCSD will use this year. These meetings will take place by appointment on Tuesday, Aug. 4, and Wednesday, Aug. 5.
The HCSD Technology Team is also providing a series of "Parent Technology Academies." The first was held on Tuesday, July 21, and further installments will be held Thursday, July 23, Thursday, July 30, and Friday, July 31.
Read the full HCSD plan at hinds.k12.ms.
In the Madison County School District, students will return to campus to alternate in-class instruction with distance learning on September 3-4 and Sept. 8-11, with a full return for all on-campus students on Sept. 14. Students enrolled in virtual learning for the first semester will begin school on September 3. Due to the calendar change, MCSD has extended the deadline to enroll in virtual learning to Friday, Aug. 14.
MCSD will provide a distance-learning option for students with medical or health concerns that may put them especially at risk from the COVID-19 pandemic. A form to enroll in virtual learning is available on the MCSD website through Friday, Aug. 14. All MCSD school campuses will have Wi-Fi available outside if needed.
Bus drivers with MCSD will disinfect handrails, seat tops and entrance doors and place seat markings for social distancing. Drivers will also open roof hatches and windows for increased air flow. All students on buses will have to wear masks at all times.
MCSD will provide for student hand-washing and sanitizing before and after meal service, mark spaced lines to enter the cafeteria and serving lines, designate entrances and exit flow paths, and clean high-touch surfaces throughout each day, Gene Wright, director of communications for MCSD, says. Individual principals will determine social distancing rules for cafeterias, which are set to remain open. Each school will determine its own dining rules.
For more information on MCSD's reopening plan, visit mcssk12.org.
As detailed in its "Smart Restart" reopening plan, the Rankin County School District will begin the 2020 fall semester on Monday, Aug. 10. Schools will operate on an enhanced traditional learning program, which will require students to attend classes in-person every day, but with social distancing and increased sanitation protocols in place.
Modifications to regular operations include daily screenings and adjustments to transportation, campus arrival and dismissal, meal-service procedures and more. Additionally, RCSD will be suspending the examination exemption policies that are based on attendance.
Parents who are concerned about sending their children to learn on campus can apply for the Choice Distance Learning Program. Students in Choice will be enrolled at their regular school, but they will participate in virtual learning and complete their assignments at home. The content and the pace of the course load will match traditional school-curriculum experiences, and teachers will assist students in working through weekly assignments using interactive and independent activities.
Applications for the Choice program can be found on the RCSD website and are due on Friday, July 24, at noon.
Should state or local officials require stricter social distancing protocols with additional legislation later in the semester, RCSD plans to implement either a hybrid system, which will have students alternate between attending face-to-face and virtual classes, or the Brick2Brick Distance Learning scenario, which would move classes to online-only., depending
For the hybrid plan, students would be separated, largely evenly, into one of two cohorts. Students in Cohort 1 would attend face-to-face classes on Monday and Thursday and engage in distance learning on Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. Students in Cohort 2 would attend school in-person classes on Tuesday and Friday and learn virtually on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday.
Students will be sorted alphabetically and assigned to a cohort by last name so that siblings may have the same schedule.
Under the Brick2Brick program, students would continue to receive instruction from the same teachers, while using digital systems such as Google Classroom, Canvas and Zoom. To learn more about RCSD's reopening plan, visit rcsd.ms.
Deputy Editor Nate Schumann contributed to this article. Send education-related story tips to [email protected].