South Panola school board approves virtual learning option

Published 1:47 pm Friday, August 20, 2021

Parents of children enrolled at South Panola schools will have the option of virtual learning when the current district-wide quarantine ends Aug. 30 and students return to campuses. A 14-day transition to distance learning began Tuesday, Aug. 17 for all of the district’s 4,282 students.

The transition to distance learning was necessary when statewide numbers of Covid-19 infections showed a steep increase two weeks ago, and the numbers of positive cases and close contacts to positive cases grew in the district.

“The virus is not behaving itself and the state numbers were over five thousand today,” said Superintendent Tim Wilder in a special called meeting of the district’s Board of Trustees Friday, Aug. 20. “Whatever the state numbers are have a tendency to be very reflective of what happens in school.”

Asst. Superintendent David Tutor updated board members on the latest Covid numbers at SPSD, saying 112 students and 32 teachers are currently at home with positive cases. Another 496 students and 17 teachers are in quarantine because of close contacts with positive cases.

Because of the increases in both positive cases and close contacts, the school board held the special meeting to approve a virtual learning option for parents not wanting their children to attend in-person classes.

Essentially, the plan lays out guidelines for parents wanting to take advantage of virtual instruction as a safety precaution, but will only be available for students who qualify and adhere to the virtual learning handbook.

Parents who choose the virtual option beginning Aug. 31 when SPSD students are scheduled to return to their schools, must meet Mississippi Department of Education guidelines and South Panola benchmarks to be eligible for the virtual program.

Virtual learning is for students who have reliable internet connectivity and adhere to attendance and code of conduct policies. Among those are the requirement of 330 minutes of instruction per day using the Google Classroom program.

“That doesn’t mean a student in the virtual learning program will have live instruction for five and a half hours a day,” Wilder told board members. “It means that every day live instruction combined with student work should be the equivalent of 330 minutes, and that’s an MDE requirement.”

Also, the state department of education mandates that students enrolled in virtual learning programs participate in state assessment testing on campus, and excludes them from participating in any extracurricular school activities or fine arts programs.

Additionally, South Panola’s policy for virtual learning will require students maintain a 75 or better cumulative average and passing scores in their core subjects. Parents who choose virtual learning for their children must inform their school by Friday, Aug. 27 before students return to classrooms the next Tuesday. A signed consent form is also required of parents.

Students enrolled in virtual learning must stay in the program through the end of the first nine weeks. If the district offers the virtual learning option after the first nine weeks has ended, parents will have the opportunity to have their children continue in their schooling in that fashion, provided all the requirements have been met.

The MDE on Wednesday approved hybrid scheduling for districts interested in that option. Under that plan, students are blocked together and attend in person classes two or three days a week, and stay home for distance learning the other days. South Panola school officials did not discuss hybrid scheduling as an option locally.

There remains in the district a small number of the student body that does not have access to reliable internet service, and can’t take advantage of virtual learning when a student is quarantined, and the school has sent the child home for a distinct period.

For parents of those children the school district will continue to provide paper packets – daily assignments and worksheets prepared by teachers to match the online instruction being offered those with internet access.

Paper packets do not apply to the virtual learning option, rather they are only for students who cannot attend classes because of a positive Covid diagnosis or close contact.