JPS Set To Open, Mandate Masks as COVID-19, Variant Cases Skyrocket | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

JPS Set To Open, Mandate Masks as COVID-19, Variant Cases Skyrocket

Jackson Public Schools serve just under 21,000 students and their families at more than 52 school sites, including elementary, middle and high schools, as well as special program schools. Photo by Kristin Brenemen

Jackson Public Schools serve just under 21,000 students and their families at more than 52 school sites, including elementary, middle and high schools, as well as special program schools. Photo by Kristin Brenemen

The Jackson Public School system is set to begin the fall semester on Aug. 9, where almost 21,000 students will be required to attend full-time, traditional in-school curriculum. In a “Return to Learn” letter dated June 2, Superintendent Errick L. Greene explained the reasoning behind the return to full in-person learning.

“After weathering the past year of virtual, hybrid and in-person instruction as a result of the pandemic, it is time to Return to Learn and reopen our schools fully to in-person instruction for the 2021-22 school year,” the letter reads.

Greene explains that some students struggled with virtual learning, or became “disengaged” with school entirely, prompting JPS to return to full in-school learning without the choice of hybrid or virtual learning.

In an interview with the Jackson Free Press this morning, JPS Executive Director of Public Engagement Sherwin Johnson and Executive Director of Climate and Wellness Amanda Thomas clarified the district’s position on COVID-19 safety protocols for this coming fall semester.

The traditional model of full in-person learning will be in effect for all students K-12, except for students with medical documentation.

“We would handle that on a case by case basis to provide the most reasonable accommodations,” Thomas said.

Only three or more related outbreaks would prompt a school closure, Thomas said, with each outbreak meaning three related cases in the same school.

“We’ve got to have multiple outbreaks before school closures would happen,” she said. “We follow the guidance of CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and the Mississippi State Department of Health as it relates to the closure of schools.”

JPS will provide cloth masks to all students and require universal masking for students and faculty, while taking students' temperatures before they are allowed to enter school grounds. Students are not required to divulge their vaccination status, but the district hopes students and parents will share the information.

“We encourage our parents and students to divulge that information to us especially if they come into contact (with someone infected),” Thomas said. Vaccinated students do not have to undergo the required quarantine period if they are exposed to the virus. JPS will provide online assignments to those under mandatory quarantine or who have medical documentation to stay home, as well as real-time virtual instruction for those well enough to work.

“Schools will provide real-time virtual instruction to students who are well enough to work during COVID-related quarantine,” Johnson said. “Students must provide medical documentation in order to receive a virtual link to instruction during the quarantine period.”

The 2021 spring semester saw 1,714 infections among faculty around the state with 4,369 student infections while that semester saw 122 outbreaks among schools. MSDH data show that cases have now caught up with those spring months, with today’s report showing 2,094 cases and 8 deaths, along with 152 outbreaks among long-term care facilities.

CORRECTION: This article is corrected to say that all students undertaking virtual learning will have both real-time virtual instruction as well as online assignments available to them. The article initially stated that only those students under mandatory quarantine would be provided virtual instruction, while those stay-at-home students with a medical excuse would only be provided online assignments. We apologize for the error.

Email Reporting Fellow Julian Mills at [email protected].

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