TUPELO • Superintendent Dr. Rob Picou said the Tupelo School district would like to return next year with school “as close to normal as humanly possible.”

The Tupelo Public School District Board of Trustees approved a reopening blueprint for the 2021-22 school year Tuesday afternoon which will see the city’s schools return to largely familiar operations.

The semester begins Aug. 4.

Several notable changes have been made to COVID-related protocols instituted during the previous school year. They include:

  • Masks and face shields will no longer be required for students and staff unless directed by executive order.
  • Virtual learning will not be an option for kindergarten through sixth grade students, only those in seventh through 12 grades.
  • Breakfast and lunch will be served in the cafeteria instead of in classrooms.
  • In-person open houses will be conducted in August.
  • The school day will return to the normal 330 minutes of instruction, up from the 240 allowed last year by Mississippi Department of Education for flexible scheduling.

As with the previous school year, the blueprint is a “living document.” School district officials say they will make changes as necessary within the district.

Although many of the protocols implemented during the pandemic will be retired, not all are going away. Temperature checks will still be conducted, and students will still be quarantined if they come into close contact with someone who tests positive for COVID-19. Enhanced cleaning within the district’s schools will also continue.

Instruction and technology

With the new year, virtual learning will no longer be an option for the district’s younger students. According to Picou, the decision to restrict online learning to older students is meant to help foster younger students during critical early stages in their educations.

“For some students (virtual learning) really wasn’t successful for them,” Picou said. “So we want to make sure we’re not setting kids up for failure.”

Kindergarten through second grade students will have self-contained classrooms with no team-teaching and approximately 20 students in a class, other than Lawhon second grade which will utilize team-teaching.

Students in third through fifth grades will also have self-contained classrooms of about 24 students each, but team-teaching will be incorporated with teachers moving from class to class.

Seventh through 12th graders who choose a traditional schedule will follow a normal schedule, which will minimize transition times between classes and facilitate controlled arrival and dismissal times.

In addition to being a full-time option for seventh through 12th grade students, virtual learning will be offered to any student quarantined because of exposure to COVID-19 or because of school closures.

TPSD will provide school supplies for each student next year, along with copies of textbooks and workbooks to be used at home and school, just as they did during the 2020-21 year. Students will also be provided with Chromebooks for schoolwork, and the district will continue to use the Canvas learning management system for communication, instruction and feedback.

Small group work and partner interaction in classes can resume, but student seating will remain separated where feasible to provide for social distancing.

The school district will continue to follow current grading and promotion/retention policies.

The school district plans to establish a tech support system to address questions and concerns from parents, and WiFi access will be extended to one parking lot at each school for district-issued devices.

Health and safety

School nurses hired for each school during the pandemic will be retained for the 2021-22 school year.

The district will establish a protocol for visitors, like parents coming for scheduled office and classroom visits. They will call the front office before entering and will be screened where feasible.

Parents will not be allowed to walk students to classrooms on the first day of school. Instead, school staff will show students to their classrooms.

Schools will schedule and communicate with parents about open houses, which will be held in August.

Meals will return to school cafeterias in the coming school year, although the district is putting extra safety protocols in place. Students will use disposable plates and utensils, and school food and nutrition staff will clean and sanitize all serving areas and carts regularly.

Students will be allowed to wash their hands and/or use hand sanitizer machines before and after meals, and they will enter and exit the cafeteria via designated paths.

School buses will continue to be equipped with hand sanitizer for drivers and students. If an infected individual rides a bus, that bus will be removed from service until it has been deep-cleaned and disinfected. Approval from the transportation director will be required before the bus returns to service.

In school buildings, high-touch areas will be cleaned before the opening of school and each day when school starts. Hand sanitizing stations throughout schools will be increased and additional equipment for disinfecting classrooms/playgrounds will be purchased.

Only one student at a time will be allowed in restrooms to ensure social distancing.

Continuing commitment to safety

In summing up the blueprint, Picou said TPSD will continue its “commitment to the safety of our staff and students.”

“We will monitor the numbers continuously in our partnership with the hospital and our local medical experts here in Tupelo, which is what we’ve done from the beginning,” he said.

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