Itawamba County School District (ICSD) officials have approved pushing the start of school back another week.

In a special July 29 special meeting, the school board approved Aug. 14 as the official first day of school. Itawamba County schools were originally scheduled to reopen Aug. 7.

ICSD Superintendent Trae Wiygul told the group there were three viable reasons the delay would be in the best interest of the district.

“First the COVID-19 numbers remain high, and second, the delay would give more time for back-ordered PPE supplies to arrive,” he said. “Lastly, the delay will give our teachers a few more days of preparation before we start.”

Along with his recommendation for the new start date, Wiygul presented his proposal for replacing the lost time in order to meet the 180-day requirement schools must be in session. According to the Mississippi Department of Education (MDE), state law requires Mississippi schools to operate 180 days each school year, with the school year ending by June 30. By law, school districts are to set their own school calendars, including the first and final days of school.

Wiygul suggested students attend the Monday and Tuesday before Thanksgiving; attend previously scheduled Professional Development days on Jan. 4 and March 15 and add May 26 as the last day of school.

The board unanimously approved both proposals.

The board also approved changes to the district’s COVID-19 Response Plan to be in line with the latest recommendations by the Mississippi State Department of Health (MSDH). Students and faculty must still quarantine 14 days, but be symptom free for 24 hours, including fever free (100.0 degrees or below) without medication. The previous plan stated 72 hours.

Also changed from the previous plan is MSDH’s recommendation concerning close contact. Close contact is now defined as any individual within 6 feet of the infected person for at least 15 minutes or greater, with or without wearing a mask. Previous guidelines stated without a mask.

All Mississippi school districts were required to post school opening plans to the website and report plans to MDE by July 31. As of Monday, Gov. Tate Reeves is reportedly reviewing those plans to make a final decision whether to move forward with reopening the state’s schools or delay students’ return to the classroom.

The school board previously approved its “Return to School Plan.” The plan calls for students and teachers to return to a mostly traditional school setting, despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, including in-person classes on Monday through Thursday. The official plan calls for students to take part in distance learning from home or a Wi-Fi hotspot on Fridays.

Students who elect to attend school via distance learning must physically attend school on Fridays from 8 to 11 a.m. to take proctored tests or complete proctored assignments. According to the guidelines, this will be a time for student/instructor interaction and no outside persons will be allowed into the schools. Students who utilize the distance learning model will be expected to meet the same academic requirements as traditional students.

Wiygul reminded the board that all plans are subject to change as new information becomes available and they attempt to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are in uncharted waters,” he told the board. “Things are changing daily and we’re doing our best to stay on top of it.”

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