Friday, July 17, 2020
Superintendent Errick L. Greene yesterday laid out the reopening plan for the Jackson Public School District while urging those who can to opt for the virtual-only learning option as, barring any future change, the 2020-2021 session will begin Aug. 10.
The COVID-19 pandemic led to the shuttering of public schools across Mississippi mid-March. After months of increasing infection and death, JPS is gearing up to open with new restrictions and conditions to mitigate the spread of the virus among the learners and staff.
"We urge all those that can support virtual (learning) to do so," Greene said as he addressed journalists in front of JPS’ office complex downtown. "To help support our virtual model, we are using our COVID CARE funding as well as some private funding to increase scholars' access to technology. Jackson Public Schools is moving finally to a one-to-one model. Each scholar will have their device and be able to use that in their learning experiences."
With the distribution of hotspot devices and computers for students who need it, there will be two options for each school category. Elementary and middle-school students will choose between in-school and virtual learning. High-school students will choose between hybrid, a combination of in-school and virtual instruction, and virtual learning, and there is no way to go back and forth between choices for all classes.
Those already registered before yesterday will default to virtual, (he provided no reason for this), with the opportunity to change it, Greene said, as he urged others to complete the online-only registration immediately to facilitate the district's planning and, when school starts, to be prepared to monitor the temperature of the children daily.
Daily Temperature Checks
The temperature of all who use the school buses and who choose to commute to the schools privately must be checked daily.
Frequent hand washing and sanitizing, as well as a facial covering are required. PreK to Grade 2 students will wear face shields.
Face-covering exceptions will be allowed for those with respiratory health challenges on a case-by-case basis. Social distancing, “as much as possible,” will be observed in classes and hallways. Schools will serve food in classrooms to limit movement, thereby restricting exposure to others.
The sanitizing of the environment will be through the use of spray guns and ultraviolet lights, and no visitor is allowed into the school.
"We will be using sprayers to saturate spaces as opposed to wiping spaces with antibacterial cloths, as well as ultraviolet light to kill any virus that might be on surfaces," Greene said. "We will be utilizing the sanitizers on our buses. If anyone can provide transportation for their young people to school or home, we want to encourage folks to utilize that."
Help Needed for Virtual Learning Option
Greene called on churches, family members, or others who are able to support working parents by providing academic assistance and care for the students to come forward. "The more families we can support in accessing the virtual model, the better off we will all be," he said.
Partnership with the Jackson Hinds Comprehensive Clinic has led to added capacity around health-related issues, Greene said. "They have committed to supporting us with testing," he added.
Mayor: ‘Very Few Tools in the Shed at this Time’
Mayor Chokwe A. Lumumba, who spoke after Greene, said the opening of schools is like choosing between a bad and worse option.
"I will share with you that your leadership is trying to develop a path forward. We are honest in that we are learning our way through this, just as each one of you are. I believe that this (reopening) plan creates flexibility and is the best equitable solution," the mayor remarked.
"As we stand today, we will stand under a 180-day rule that the State imposes for a period in which instructions must take place, and until there is an adjustment to that, we have to have a way for how we move forward."
Lumumba expressed reservations against going entirely virtual, saying it will potentially leave out a sizable portion of the young people without access to either computer or internet access.
"We are grateful that through the leadership of Dr. Greene and our board that we have seen measurable progress in JPS over the last couple of years," Lumumba said. "We want to continue to build on that without abandoning our concerns for the safety of our children, teachers and the community at large."
Lumumba posited that some people will not like the decision to move forward with school opening.
"I know there are people that are going to be uncomfortable with moving forward, and I am not saying that your concerns are not warranted or sincere, but we have to realize that there are very few tools in the shed at this time for us to utilize," he said. "As we move forward, we have to do so painstakingly and supportive of one another, understanding that there is no one size fits all solution to this problem."
‘Everyone in the Community Has a Role’
"Everyone in this community has a role, JPS Board President Letitia Johnson said at the press conference. "Education has never been or ended at the school entrance."
She urged creativity around virtual learning and for parents who choose to work together.
"Are there other families that are isolating like yours? Can your children come together? Are there family members that can help with tutoring and help your child deal with this drastic change?" Johnson posed.
"Our plan is 100% based on what we know today, what we are prepared to do today. As we know more tomorrow and next week, and even up until and after the start of school, we are committed to making adjustments as appropriate," Greene explained.
The options available, he said, include closing down the school district, or individual schools, and going completely virtual if the situation calls for it.
“We are moving forward with accountability. We are accountable for young people learning, whichever route they take, whichever model, we understand that and we are moving forward (with that understanding),” he said.
Email story tips to city/county reporter Kayode Crown at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @kayodecrown.