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Half of SP students return, busing numbers are low

About 46 percent of previously registered students in the South Panola School District have returned to classrooms for traditional learning this academic year, and about 50 percent have chosen a form of distance learning, according to a report by Superintendent Tim Wilder.

Wilder updated the school board on Tuesday, Aug. 18, at the regular monthly meeting of the board. It was the first face-to-face meeting trustees have held since pandemic began. Board members and administrators used the high school’s large library with each trustee seated a different table.

Some 1,988 students were in classrooms on Monday, Aug. 17, the first day of school in Batesville and Pope. Another 2,180 were using computers to access school lessons, and 119 children from last year are unaccounted for and the district has not been able to reach their families. Wilder said 117 withdrew from the school system over the summer.

“The first two days of school went smooth, and we had no issues of any major proportion,” Wilder said.

“Our teachers and staff have really worked hard to prepare for the first day of school and the students seemed to have enjoyed being back as much as you can having to wear a mask all day,” he said.

An updated report to the school board next month is expected to show an increase of students in each classroom and more bus riders if the county’s infection rate continues to remain low in comparison to other counties and hospitalizations decline.

The district has distributed 3,844 Chromebook computers for the school year, leaving 366 not yet given out. All students, in school and distance learners, are using Chromebooks this year for teacher instruction and assignment completion. Wilder said the district expects to have those computers in students’ hands soon.

In his update, Wilder reported extremely low numbers of students riding buses the first day of school. Of the 62 buses the district runs each day, more than half carried fewer than 10 students, and more than 25 of those had five students or less. Several had one or two riders, and three buses had no students.

Asst. Superintendent Jamone Edwards said students on buses increased some the next day, but the average number of students per bus – usually 40 in a normal year – remained much lower. More riders are expected each day as parents become more comfortable with the changes in school procedures this year.

“If we don’t have students return in greater numbers over the next two or three weeks then we may need to adjust some bus routes,” Wilder said. “As you can see our numbers are low compared to what we normally see on buses, drastically low.”

A breakdown of each school’s attendance on the first day of the semester were:

Elementary – 268 traditional and 302 distance students.

Intermediate – 228 traditional and 269 distance.

Middle – 239 traditional and 291 distance.

Junior High – 375 traditional and 474 distance.

High School – 543 traditional and 659 distance.

Pope – 353 traditional and 185 distance.