Public schools in DeSoto County will continue to be shuttered through April 17, as directed by Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves. The governor made that announcement during a social media session with the public Thursday morning, March 19.
In response to that directive by the governor, DeSoto County School District (DCS) Board of Education members moved to continue the paid administrative leave for employees through the same date.
The action came during Thursday's meeting at Central Services in Hernando.
The board meeting, held by conference call with only Board President Milton Nichols and board member Sarah Doss-Thomas actually in the meeting room, was quickly sent into recess as it was gaveled in. Board members wanted to hear Reeves' announcement of schools being closed and get details on that before they returned to open session.
When the board members returned to open session, the request from Associate Superintendent of Human Resources Van Alexander was unanimously approved.
DCS Supt. Cory Uselton said district parents were told about the closings Thursday morning.
“We’ve also informed them we will send them an update on or before April 17 regarding the status of the school week that will begin on April 20,” Uselton said.
Distance learning will start next week for DCS students and continue through at least April 17.
"Our teachers have already been working hard to ensure that they're ready for distance learning,” he explained. “All of our employees is rallying together to ensure that our students get the best education possible during this hiatus. All of our students will be contacted by teachers about class assignments and such.”
Uselton said distance learning is what he called a “fluid situation,” and something the district is learning more about as it transitioning into it.
Payroll personnel have been busy getting the next paychecks together for school employees. While employees are on administrative leave, Uselton cautioned it doesn’t mean they are on vacation.
“All of our employees are on call during this time and some employees may be needed more than others, depending the work situation,” he said.
Buildings are closed and locked and only administrators and vital personnel are inside. Some teachers may also be working in their classrooms.
Uselton said parents with questions should email directly their teachers and contact the building principal by email or phone call if there is a need to receive students’ personal effects or school materials still inside.
“I know it’s difficult on families right now and everyone is anxious,” Uselton said. “No one is in a routine right now so we just ask our parents to continue to be patient with us.”
As far as any financial impact to the district by the coronavirus outbreak, Uselton said that it is too soon to begin that thought process and that public safety is now the top priority.
SCHOOLS ADDED TO MEALS PROGRAM: Uselton announced during the board meeting the addition of more school locations that will offer free meals during the time that classes on not in session.
On Wednesday, March 18, free meals were being offered to children up to age 18 at three district schools. The children did not have to be DCS students and no identification was needed. The students just needed to be there in person between the hours of 10 a.m.-12 noon.
Uselton told the school board meeting that on Wednesday, child nutrition personnel served 1,135 meals at Horn Lake Intermediate, Southaven Intermediate and Chickasaw Elementary schools.
The program will continue through Friday at those three facilities. Walls Elementary, Hernando Hills Elementary, and DeSoto Central Elementary schools will become added locations next week, starting Monday.
WAIVER APPROVED FOR STATE SCHOOLS: Another impact of the decision concerning schools being closed is that the state Board of Education Thursday approved measures to waive the 180-day requirement for a school calendar year. A waiver request to federal officials to suspend federal and state assessments was also approved.
Districts will keep the same accountability grades for the school year they had last year, including the “A” rating DeSoto County Schools currently have.
State officials are giving local districts guidance about distance learning going forward during the hiatus caused by COVID-19. Online learning opportunities are also being provided in cooperation with Mississippi Public Broadcasting.
Dr. Jason Dean, state board chairman, stated that, “school buildings are closed to the general public but learning is not closed.” Dean encouraged local school districts to continue learning opportunities for students during this time.