Wednesday, August 25, 2021
Jackson Public School District parents have until 5 p.m. Friday, Aug. 27, to fill out a survey indicating if they want the virtual-learning option for their pre-kindergarten to sixth-grade students. Superintendent Errick Greene told the board members, who later approved the plan, at a special meeting on Zoom Tuesday, Aug. 24, that the virtual option will begin on Sept 2 until the end of the semester on Dec. 21, amid rising COVID-19 cases to offer more flexibility to parents.
Greene said the short window to receive feedback from parents is to enable the staff to prepare adequately and that limiting the virtual option to those grade levels is because they are ineligible for the COVID-19 vaccines.
“Our team needs as much time as possible, one, to know who will be accessing this alternative option and to plan our staffing and to ensure that devices are distributed—all the logistical pieces of this work that would have to be accomplished in order for us to launch it with any level of success," Greene said at the meeting. "And our team is really determined to do this and do it well and not just be thrust into a new way of operating, and so we will need a little bit of time at least in order to operationalize this.”
“We will operate this virtual learning through Dec 21 which is the end of the first semester, at least, and obviously, at that point, we will be continuing to consider what does this look like, what does the data look like, and does it make sense to continue to use this option.”
Virtual learners will not participate in athletics, other extracurricular activities or after-school programs. Parents who choose the option have to sign up for a stricter level of accountability and requirement than last year based on the new board policy on distance/online learning. The new plan also precludes hybrid learning, and parents must check out devices and sign an agreement for virtual learning on Tuesday, Aug. 31, or Wednesday, Sept.1. Devices will be available for pickup on Thursday, Sept. 2, and the district will not provide hot spots or Internet service.
“Mississippi Department of Education has relaxed its rules around allowing some flexibility with hybrid instruction,” Greene said. “We are very concerned about our scholars' safety, and we are very concerned about our scholars continuing to learn. Our experience has been that learning in a hybrid model is very difficult for scholars.”
"For continuity of learning and to ensure that our scholars meet with success, we are opting to focus our adjustments here on the virtual learning option.”
Greene told the board that the district ended last year with 20,618 students, but the enrollment for this school year dropped to 17,457 as of Aug 23. “Obviously a huge dip there from where we ended last year and where we are now,” he added.
There are 4,183 “no shows,” meaning students who were in the district last year but have not re-enrolled.
“They were with us last year, they didn’t graduate, and they didn’t re enroll, nor (do we) have a transfer request,” he said. “Obviously for us that presents a major concern. Where are these scholars, have they made another option, another choice? If so, everyone is entitled to their choice.”
The superintendent said information from the Mississippi Department of Education shows that 852 students are in home schools as of May 2021. “We believe that there are some large numbers of scholars and families who are homeschooling but have not officially submitted documentation to the MDE to that effect,” he said. “That could account for and we believe it does account for some of the ‘no shows.’”
“Again, it leaves us with some of those questions of where those scholars are, are they safe, are they learning?”
The superintendent shared the feedback from families and staff, including concerns about the rising delta variant cases, appreciation for mask mandate, concerns about safety, rising pediatrics cases and hospitalization, virus spreading to family members and possible vaccine mandates.
“We had several conversations internally about the possibility of mandating vaccination, less discussion about mandating for our scholars but more discussion about mandating for staff members," he said. "We’ve not arrived at (a decision), and so we are not bringing tonight a recommendation around that.”
Greene shared that by Monday, Aug. 23, there are 20 positive Covid-19 cases among the staff, and 55 are quarantining. Seventy-six students have tested positive to COVID-19 with 888 in quarantine.
Email story tips to city/county reporter Kayode Crown at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @kayodecrown.