/Mississippi, with country’s highest COVID-19 positivity rate, allows most schools to reopen

Mississippi, with country’s highest COVID-19 positivity rate, allows most schools to reopen

Nonprofit Mississippi News Gov. Tate Reeves announced Tuesday that he had issued admittedly “piecemeal” orders that allowed most schools to reopen while the state is dealing with record numbers of COVID-19 case. Reeves stated, “I believe in our hearts we have to get our children back in school,” and reaffirmed a previous theme: “I believe that it’s better to allow local leaders, whenever possible, determine the plans for their schools.” Reeves issued an executive order to “pump up the brakes” for grades 7-12 in eight COVID-19 hot spot counties. The executive order affects schools in Bolivar and Washington counties. It pushes their start date back to August 17. This order applies only to public schools. Schools that have been reopened can also be affected. Reeves’ order requires students and staff to wear masks at all schools. He also issues a statewide mandate for masks — only 37 out of 82 counties had previously been subject to a mask mandate. Based on data from the 2019-20 school years, Mississippi Today found that the executive order only affects 7% of public school students. Many of these counties have already begun planning for a virtual opening, or a later start date. This announcement comes at a time when some traditional schools in Mississippi are already open again and top state health officials are publicly calling for the governor’s delay to return to the classroom. Erica Jones, president of Mississippi Association of Educators said that the governor’s current plan is irresponsible and reckless. She asked for schools to be delayed until Sept. 1. “It ignores advice from the state’s highest medical officials and is putting students, educators and their families at danger,” Erica Jones, president of the Mississippi Association of Educators, said last week. She had asked for Reeves not to delay in-person schools opening until September. Dobbs called the earlier reopening “crazy” and stated, “There’s no magic about August.” On Tuesday, Dobbs sat down with Reeves and said, “Let’s just behave for a few weeks.” Dobbs said Tuesday that “our kids have to get back to school.” However, he also stated, “Quite honestly, I believe some of (schools) plans could use more work.” Schools had to decide between virtual or in-person reopenings, and submit plans to Mississippi Department of Education before July 31. Reeves is the only person who can delay school at the state level. He said that he had spent the last few days studying 598 pages of reopening plan documents, which led him into believing there was cause to issue an executive order. Reeves replied, “There will plenty of time for Monday morning quarterbacking,” as he reacted to some questions from the media Tuesday. Reeves said, “My decisions are made in real-time. They are based on my best judgment for Mississippi.” He acknowledged that there was risk. Are there any risks? Yes. Yes. Aliyah Shivers is fourth-grade teacher at Booker T. Washington Elementary, Clarksdale Municipal Schools District. She also has two young boys with her and believes the governor should delay opening all schools. Shivers stated Tuesday that even though they are virtual, the teacher could end up visiting the classroom. Shivers added that she is forced to take her children to daycare because the teachers may bring the virus home. “(Reeves states) Kids don’t have the virus as often as adults, but they can still get it and bring home the virus,” Shivers said Tuesday. It’s not safe.” Mississippi’s statistics don’t comfort either. Mississippi has the highest COVID-19 positivity and third-highest daily new cases rates. The number of hospitalizations for the virus continues to rise. In fact, the daily patient rolls have nearly doubled in the last month. Shivers stated that “the numbers are continually rising.” “I don’t see them dropping anytime soon, and I don’t see us trying hard to control it. We expect the children to wear a mask and keep clean their hands and stay away from their friends,” Trent Chess, a teacher at Coahoma Early College High school. To allow the state to deal with declining cases, he believes districts should be virtualized for the first nine weeks. He said that he believes it is dangerous and crazy to go back to in-person education right now. “I think that we’re seeing more cases and more deaths associated it and we just really need to not expose the children any additional or us (as teachers) any more than we already are.” The hybrid start date for the Cleveland School District in Bolivar County has been delayed to Sept. 8. Latoya Shepard, a parent with two children in the district, called Tuesday’s governor’s decision “pompous and arrogant.” Although she knows the governor is doing his best, she hoped that he would announce an all virtual return to school until the state’s case levels drop. She said, “My heart goes out for every parent in the state because we don’t know what our children are being sent into.” She said that they have a fire drill and a drill in case of an active shooter on campus. They have all these drills. But what do you do if a child is injured? Are you waiting for a child to be killed in the district?” This is my concern. “When is he going do something?” To support this important work, you can make a regular donation to our Spring Member Drive today. Our reporters give a human face to policy’s impact on everyday Mississippians by listening more closely and understanding their communities. 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