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Lack of PPE forces VWSD Trustees to delay school reopening

Difficulty getting personal protective equipment for students and staff and the inability of the school district’s custodial contractor to get fully staffed has forced the Vicksburg Warren School District’s Board of Trustees to delay reopening school for in-person instruction until Aug. 17.

The board’s decision came at a special called meeting Wednesday afternoon. It comes just less than a week after the district voted to move ahead with the scheduled start of school that was originally set for Friday.

The decision gives district officials more time to coordinate the delivery of additional personal protective equipment and allows contractors more time to get work sites at schools ready to welcome students.

Under the new schedule, students return to the classroom either in-person or digitally Aug. 17 and teachers and staff return to work Aug. 13.

The schedule also removes two four-day weekends from the school calendar. Students would remain in school on Oct. 9 and Oct. 12, and Feb. 12 and Feb. 15. The new schedule also provides two extra days for professional development programs for teachers.

Superintendent Chad Shealy, who recommended the delay, said he wanted to make sure all the personal protective equipment required under the school district’s reopening plan was in place when school reopened. Some of that equipment, he said, would not arrive on time for the Friday opening.

Gov. Tate Reeves Tuesday issued an executive order requiring teachers and students to wear facemasks during in-school instruction at public schools.

“We had a company that canceled our order for one of our major PPEs and then we have been pushed back on two of the other essentials, which were supposed to be delivered last month in the middle of the month,” Shealy said. 

One of those items, he said, was youth cloth facemasks for students ages 4-12, which are recommended by the Centers for Disease Control.

“We have facemasks here, it’s just that the adult ones are so large that we needed to order the youth ones,” Shealy said.

Shealy said students will receive five cloth masks that can be washed and reused. Teachers and school employees will receive masks and face shields.

The youth masks that were expected by July 23 are now expected Aug. 11, he said.

“All of our PPEs were initially projected to be here by Friday of last week; some of them a whole lot earlier than that but they began to be pushed back,” Shealy said.

He said the school district has a large number of scanning thermometers that have been used at the central office and for athletic programs, but an additional 34 thermometers are needed to be ready for scanning students when they return.

Shealy said the school district’s custodial contractor previously had difficulty finding seasonal and hourly workers because the potential employees were at the time receiving unemployment and COVID-19 relief money.

Now that the unemployment assistance has ended, he said, people are beginning to return to work and have to go through background checks.

The lack of employees, Shealy said, has prevented the contractor from maintaining its normal level of service.

Shealy said one concern he had about River City Early College students taking their courses through distance learning has been resolved.

Initially, school officials thought students attending River City would be unable to get an accompanying associate’s degree if they participated in distance learning.

Shealy said the school district and Hinds have developed an agreement that will allow students to earn credit if they attend class through distance learning.

According to school officials, the majority of parents in the school district prefer their children to participate in distance learning.

Under the reopening plan, students coming to school will be scanned to determine if they have a fever. Any child with a temperature of 100.4 degrees or more will be sent to a quarantine room, where their temperature will be taken again with an oral thermometer after a 10-minute wait.

If the second reading is below 100.4 degrees the student will be allowed to attend class. If the temperature remains at 100.4 degrees or higher, the parents will be called.

Students attending school who are diagnosed with COVID-19 and will be away from school for a long period of time will participate in distance learning. 

Students will be required to wear masks and practice social distancing while in the quarantine room.

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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