superintendents discuss plans to safely reopen schools in the fall

MASS webinar explores challenges facing districts during the ongoing pandemic

JACKSON ―School districts in Mississippi are considering how best to conduct fall classes in response to state guidelines allowing them to choose from traditional, online or blended learning environments.

 Superintendents Wayne Rodolfich of Pascagoula-Gautier, Dr. Robert Picou of Tupelo and Brian Freeman of Forrest County explained preparations being made by their respective districts to safely welcome students back to school during the latest webinar hosted by the Mississippi Association of School Superintendents.

 “School leaders are carefully evaluating options to ensure that all students stay on track in their educational journeys,” said Dr. Phillip Burchfield, executive director of MASS. “The path is still uncertain, but our hope is that by providing a forum for superintendents to discuss their issues and concerns, we can determine the appropriate next steps that will benefit students, parents and communities throughout Mississippi.”

 During the recent webinar, participants discussed the pros and cons of different learning environments and how their districts are choosing the most appropriate option for students while strictly adhering to CDC guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

 “We are battling a gap in learning for students, and we believe creating a safe environment for in-class instruction is vital,” said Rodolfich, who noted that lessons learned during the district’s recovery from Hurricane Katrina have been helpful in mapping a path forward, especially the need to address mental health issues and expand access to counseling for students and parents.

 In Tupelo, more than a third of parents who responded to a survey indicated that they had concerns about sending children back to school. Picou said the district is working to provide flexible options that allow students to complete all or a portion of their studies online. 

“It is very important to communicate with parents about safety and make sure they are comfortable with the direction we are taking,” Picou said.

 Ensuring that all households have internet access to support online learning has been a challenge for many school districts across the state. As part of their planning for the fall, the Forrest County School District conducted a study to pinpoint connectivity issues in the county and determine how best to expand internet service into underserved areas.

“We are considering all of the options,” Freeman said. “We want to provide the safest environment possible in our schools and ensure that students have all of the resources required to support virtual learning in their homes.”

 Attorney Jim Keith of Adams and Reese LLP also spoke during the webinar about the importance of consistently enforcing virus-prevention protocols and building confidence among parents that students will be safe when they attend school.

“The dynamic nature of the pandemic presents even more challenges for schools as they plan to safely re-open this fall,” Burchfield said. “MASS wants to be part of the solution by facilitating discussions that help school leaders get all the facts and choose the safest path forward for their districts.”


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