This time last year, the overriding concern for the soon-to-be-formed Greenwood Leflore Consolidated School District was how to effectively conduct the merger of two school systems.
Now, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, discussion centers on how school will be held for the district’s roughly 4,700 students this fall.
There are two basic questions: How much will distance learning come into play? And, how will classes be held on campuses?
At this juncture, a combination seems likely.
“There are some things we do know,” Dr. Mary Brown, superintendent, said during a work session of the school board Friday.
She discussed several Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for reopening campuses. The guidelines, she said, “speak to some of the things we know will happen next year.”
First, she said, students, teachers, staff and visitors all will have to wear masks.
“We know that our students won’t be able to share their items and supplies,” she said, explaining that she will be speaking with teachers about how this can be accomplished.
Students will have to be seated 6 feet apart and facing in the same direction. To assist with physical distancing, she said, “we are trying to find ways that are possible to do using partitions of plexiglass.” These won’t be installed without the endorsement of the Mississippi State Department of Health.
Hallways will be marked with tape to show which way to walk. Prepackaged breakfasts and lunches will be served, perhaps in classrooms. Also, younger students will stay in their classrooms and will not change teachers. It’s possible that restrooms and school buses will be partitioned with plexiglass.
One of the unanswered questions is how to implement social distancing on school buses. Does the district have enough buses, since they won’t be able to carry normal loads? Maybe school arrival times will have to be staggered. “Maybe we will do half-days,” Brown speculated.
She insisted that it is essential that younger students attend school in classrooms and not over the internet, although the internet could play a supportive role. Some students are too young to operate the technology without help from an adult, and parents will be at work.
“When we think about our young kids, we need to keep them in school as much as we can,” she said, raising the question of who would watch the children if they were at home.
Brown explained to the board that she expects guidelines from the Mississippi Department of Education soon, likely before the board meets in regular session on June 2.
Meanwhile, the district is planning as much as it can. Assistant Superintendent Charles Johnson has been examining buildings and buses and arranging for purchases of items, such as disinfectant, that surely will be needed. Also, the business office has been looking at funding. Among the questions are how much federal coronavirus relief will be available and when funds would be received. The administrators said they are trying to spend as little of the district’s money as possible.
Dr. Kenneth Pulley, deputy superintendent, has been looking for better online distance learning platforms. He told the board he likes Canvas in part because it allows for better interaction between students and teachers. If it is implemented, a Canvas instructor would teach 20 staff members how it works, and these would teach others in the district, he said.
To get people in the district familiar with the platform over the summer, it would be used in extended school learning programs and for special education services, such as speech therapy. To be effective, speech therapy requires face-to-face interaction between the therapist and the student, and so a platform that allows a student to look a teacher in the face is important, he said.
•Contact Susan Montgomery at 581-7241 or firstname.lastname@example.org.