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Delay of some school startings ordered by Governor

Health officials here and across the state are supporting the decision to postpone for two weeks a return to school for  7th-12th grades in some areas, while keeping a close watch on the reported positive tests for the coronavirus that has sickened an estimated  60, ooo Mississippians and killed more than 1,700.

Gov. Tate Reeves said in a press conference Tuesday afternoon he believes the recent increase of cases and deaths from COVID-19 warranted an executive order that delays  start of some schools, including the 7th-12th grades at South Panola High School.

Panola was one of just seven counties identified by the Governor as hot spots. The others were Bolivar, Coahoma, George, Sunflower, Washington, and Jones.

Locally, all South Panola schools were scheduled to begin regular classroom activities on Monday, Aug. 10, with approximately half of the district’s registered students taking part in on-campus instruction.

About half of South Panola enrollees have chosen the distance learning method approved by the board of trustees. The district has spent considerable time and money preparing for the return of students with teachers, administrators, and staff undergoing thorough training and preparation for the operation of COVID-19 safe facilities.

The school board released a comprehensive plan for the return of school for parents last month. That plan clearly outlines the procedures that will make up a regular school day amid pandemic conditions, including when masks will be required and what rate of coronavirus infection will be considered an outbreak that will force quarantine of students and staff.

County Emergency Management director Daniel Cole said he was very impressed with the safety plan released by South Panola and said he doesn’t expect outbreak problems in the district.

Cole told the Board of Supervisors this week he expects the fatality numbers from COVID-19 to increase some this week because he knew of three deaths that have not yet been officially reported to state health officials.

Besides the many changes to comply with CDC suggested guidelines to slow or prevent the spread of coronavirus, South Panola schools will no doubt benefit from having fewer students to serve on campus each day.

School officials unanimously agree that teacher to student instruction in a classroom is best for students, and that being part of a class group has social development advantages.  Still, local administrators have been sensitive to the fears of some families who believe they increase the chances of contracting COVID-19 in their households because children are gathered in groups during school hours.

North Panola School District made the decision two weeks ago to offer only distance learning, at least for the first part of the school year. As with districts across the state, changes in the pandemic conditions would dictate changes with school plans.

The two private schools that service Panola County families – North Delta School in Batesville and Magnolia Heights in Senatobia – have also offered dual options for education in the upcoming school terms.

Students at those schools will be allowed to distance learn if desired, although both schools are expecting the majority of their students to choose on-campus schooling.

As with  many of  the public school policies in the state’s various districts, parents will be required to work closely with the school to choose on-campus and distance learning options, and will not be allowed to “come and go” from one plan to the other without special considerations.

Many students worried they would not be allowed to participate in sports or other school activities if their parents chose the distance learning option, but it’s widely understood now that any enrolled student will have full access to extracurricular activities offered at almost every school.

As of Tuesday, July 28, there were 867 positive cases (since March 11) in Panola County, with 102 reported last Monday and Tuesday alone. That rate of infection has slowed here, and in the next six days, through this Monday, there were only 69 more cases reported for a total of 936 and 11 deaths.

Statewide, as of Monday evening, there have been 62,199 cases, of which 1,753 have been fatal.

Cole this week said he has observed a larger percentage of the local population wearing face coverings, but also continues to see far too many groups of people gathered, whether just socializing or participating in an event.

He has continued to espouse the most basic guidelines concocted by state and federal health officials as the best way to lessen the rate of infection in the local population and ultimately eliminate, if possible, the virus from Panola County.

Washing hands frequently, using spray disinfectants on high-touch areas in vehicles and homes, wearing masks that cover the mouth and nose, and observing the important six-foot rule of separation and similar social distancing practices remain the best way to avoid the spread of the disease, Cole says.