South Pike students still start school Monday, but they did get a reprieve of sorts Wednesday morning.

District board members voted unanimously to begin the school year online for all students, and begin the previously approved attendance plans on Sept. 8, the day after Labor Day.

With students beginning their classes online, Superintendent Dr. Donna Scott said there would be no changes to the most recently approved calendar.

Board member Dr. Luke Lampton said the delay complies with state health officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs’ recommendations for school openings.

“Delaying in-person classes until September is the best plan for us,” Lampton said. “COVID-19 infection rates are going down, but they’re still high. It’s better to delay than to have students or teachers have to quarantine and shut down the school.”

Lampton and Scott noted that the delay will also give extra time for the district to receive some supplies — such as sneeze guards to put between desks — that have been ordered but not yet arrived.

Scott said parents have been cooperative with the district’s plans so far.

“It will take parental support to be able to do this,” Scott said. “They will have to make sure that the students are doing what they are supposed to do.

“The parents have been pretty supportive. Some supported traditional school, some wanted virtual. We would probably have more students doing virtual if they had the capability. A lot of parents want their children back in school, and this may be challenging for them, because they expected students to be back in school, but they’ll be back in school after Labor Day. We’re going to do everything we can for our students to be safe.”

In addition to changing the instructional method for the beginning of school, board members adopted a distance learning plan for all students at the beginning of school, that will continue for online students from Sept. 8 at least through the first semester.

The district listed its methods of instruction and communication for online students and their families, including Google Classroom and Class Dojo for both interactive and recorded lessons.

District officials also expect to use Canvas for student instruction and communication when the program is installed in the district.

The Zoom videoconferencing application will be used for parent-teacher conferences.

More regular communications will be made through traditional means such as telephone calls, e-mail, text messages, the district and school web pages and social media, as well as the SchoolStatus and Active Parent websites.

In addition to the attendance plan, the board adopted new policies and amended or suspended others to address the conditions created by the prevalence of COVID-19.

Policies added include Family and Medical Leave Act provisions, standards for distance and online learning, staff conduct on virtual meetings, school return standards for various methods of school attendance, recording attendance for online students and complying with federal educational privacy laws.

The board re-suspended a number of policies that were previously suspended in spring because of the disruption caused by Gov. Tate Reeves’ order to close schools.

 Those policies pertain to attendance, the school calendar and instructional minutes, the grading system, testing, graduation requirements and other related matters. The board also suspended policies governing facility rental and use, and put a hold on allowing visitors beyond the school’s offices.

A section of the board’s teacher recruitment and retention policy that provides a bonus for teachers who don’t take a lot of sick or vacation days was also lifted for the time being.

“We don’t want to encourage teachers to come to work sick,” Scott said.

To help support the virtual component of schooling that will continue for high students under the hybrid, A-B schedule, the board approved an emergency purchase of tablet computers that will allow students to receive instruction and complete lessons on the days they will not be on campus.

Scott said federal funding under the CARES Act is helping the district purchase the tablets.

Federal programs coordinator Rochelle Collins said the district has also used those funds for partitions, sanitizers, the Canvas program installation and some other items related to operating while COVID-19 is prevalent.

In other business, the board:

• Hired certified public accountant Kimberly Alford to review the district’s bank reconciliations for the past fiscal year.

• Allowed three students who are children of district employees to transfer in, including two from North Pike and one from Marion County.

• Accepted the resignations of bus drivers Genice Spinks and Charles Hughes.

• Hired Andre Harris and Angienette  Anderson as teachers at Eva Gordon Upper Elementary School; Barbara Scott as a long-term substitute at Osyka Elementary; Glenda Sinclair as nursing instructor at the career and technical center; Edna Carter as a bus driver and Spinks as a substitute bus driver; and Maudie Brumfield as a cafeteria worker.

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