Administrators in the Pontotoc County School District will abide by parents’ wishes and resume classes under a traditional model, even amid concerns about the COVID-19 virus, according to the superintendent.

Supt. Dr. Brock Puckett said that more than 70 percent of parents and teachers recently surveyed indicated they wanted to go back to school in the usual way, so teachers will report on Aug. 7 and students will return Aug. 17.

“We labored over this, and the school board and all involved agreed that students’ social and emotional wellbeing were high priorities,” said Puckett. The mutual encouragement traditional school provides could help, he added.

“Students’ safety is the paramount, and we’ll do our best to ensure that,” said Puckett.

PCSD students also have the option of taking classes completely online.

Encouraging students to wear masks, as well as keeping their distance and using commonsense precautions will be standard campus procedure, but following a traditional model will pose challenges, Puckett said.

“Bus routes will run as normal, but we can’t possibly follow all the CDC guidelines to the tee,” said Puckett. “We’ll open windows and encourage parents to pick up and drop off their children. We’ll replace water fountains with bottle-fillers. We’ll take every precaution within our means.”

Teachers and administrators will vigilantly monitor recommendations from the Department of Health and Centers for Disease Control, according to Puckett. They will keep a flexible mindset and be prepared to alter their plans. PCSD personnel are encouraging parents to do the same.

As did educators at many schools, PCSD staff considered three options for back-to-school, including traditional attendance, online learning, and a hybrid model that combined both. District personnel discussed pros and cons in video conferences throughout the summer. They knew that transportation, preexisting wellness issues, and accessibility to the internet would be tremendously important for many students.

“We will continue to offer excellent online learning, utilizing the virtual teaching tools in which we’ve made a big investment,” said Puckett.

PCSD schools are using an online platform called Canvas, which allows teachers and students to interact in a virtual environment. Teachers can assign, monitor, and evaluate students’ learning. Message boards, video chats, and Zoom interactive conferencing are all part of the online learning tools PCSD personnel are making available to students, according to Puckett.

A sizeable percentage of PCSD students don’t have reliable high-speed internet access, Puckett said, so district personnel are trying to address that.

Each student receives a Chromebook laptop computer to use for school. District educators are in the process of establishing hotspots at county voting precincts, places where students can park outside and access a school-only internet network, according to Puckett.

One way or the other, PCSD personnel are committed to providing every student in the district a high-quality, personalized learning experience, one that ensures their safety and wellbeing, Puckett said.

“We’re full-throttle for a traditional return to school, but if health professionals or state educational leaders recommend a change, we’re prepared and flexible,” said Puckett. “We’re grateful to parents for their ongoing commitment and patience, and we assure everyone that students will always be our top priority.”

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