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Options for parents: First details of school district’s reopening plan unveiled

Parents in Warren County whose children attend schools within the Vicksburg Warren School District will have two choices very soon.

The first option is to send their children back to school when schools open Aug. 7, or the second, keep them at home and take advantage of the district’s distance learning program.

Superintendent Chad Shealy presented the district’s options and reopening plans thus far during Thursday’s Board of Trustees meeting.

In his overview of the plans thus far, Shealy said the district put to use the best plans, recommendations and advice available, as well as thousands of responses and suggestions from residents.

“In that thought exchange, it was made clear we have two dichotomies of people that live in our community, where one says ‘I want my kid back now,’ and the other says ‘I’m not sending them back. You better provide me a virtual option,'” Shealy said. “So as a board I believe we have done that.”

While the final plans — including individual school plans — will be approved at a meeting in July, Thursday’s presentation gave a broad overview of welcoming students back to the classroom — whether that be in person or in a virtual setting.

Option A, as it is being called, calls for in-person instruction beginning with the first day of school on Aug. 7.

Anyone entering the school will have their temperature checked and classrooms are being organized in a way to provide better social distancing between students and teachers.

Additional cleaning is being coordinated and sanitizing stations will be placed at locations throughout schools.

School times will be the same as they have been and early drop-offs will no longer be allowed.

To provide more time for screening and movement to and from areas in the school to meet social distancing guidelines, the required number of hours of instruction has been reduced this year from 5.5 hours per day to four hours per day.

Other parts of how lunches will be coordinated and the changing of classes were not discussed Thursday, but would be included in individual school plans.

The district’s bus routes will run as normal, but Shealy said there is only so much that can be done to enhance safety since there is no way to socially distance on a bus.

Drivers will be provided personal protection equipment and parents will be highly encouraged to drive their children to and from school each day. Hand sanitizer and masks will be provided to those choosing to ride the bus.

Option B, or distance learning, will also begin Aug. 7 and will go hand-in-hand with the lessons being taught to students in the classroom.

The district will use Grade Results, a program the district has already used for virtual learning situations, and one that is approved by the Mississippi Department of Education. Shealy said that leading up to the start of school, teachers throughout the district will receive additional training on Grade Results to better maximize the features the program allows.

Teachers will also use Google Classroom and other virtual outlets to coordinate one-on-one sessions with students learning from home. Some lesson plans will also call for virtual students to participate in virtual gatherings with their fellow classmates weekly or more often.

And, Shealy said, if a student begins the school year attending school in-person, they can move to a virtual program at any point, and vice-versa.

Plans also call for no large social gatherings in school for right now, meaning back-to-school events and meet the teacher events will be postponed or heavily-scaled back. And, if at all possible, any parent-teacher conferences or other meetings will be done virtually.

As for the district’s teachers, administrators and other personnel, Shealy said everyone would be going through some level of COVID-19 training ahead of the first day of school.

In regards to employees, all staff will return on July 1. The first day for teachers to return still remains Aug. 3, and as of Thursday, the district’s 2020-2021 school year calendar is still in place.

In the end, Shealy said making the upcoming school year successful and safe will require commitment and partnership for all involved.

“The kids are going to be a big part of this,” he said. “For them to understand what they need to do is very important. And that is going to be different for every level. Communication to a senior is different than communicating to a second-grader.”

About Tim Reeves

Tim Reeves, and his wife Stephanie, are the parents of three children, Sarah Cameron, Clayton and Fin, who all attend school in the Vicksburg Warren School District. The family are members of First Baptist Church Vicksburg. Tim is involved in a number of civic and volunteer organizations including the United Way of West Central Mississippi and serves on the City of Vicksburg's Riverfront Redevelopment Committee.

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