County schools Parker

Superintendent Tommy Parker 

Board to reassess in October

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Students in the Jones County School District in grades 7-12 will continue with a staggered A-B schedule after Superintendent Tommy Parker hoped in August that full classes would commence after Labor Day.

The plan had been to re-evaluate the impact of COVID-19 on staff and the student body by Labor Day, but with a little more than 300 students quarantined due to exposure and about 20 student virus cases, the school board voted last week to continue hybrid scheduling for grades 7-12. That will go on tentatively until Oct. 5, when the board will meet again to determine the next step. Parker said the most important thing to note here is that these plans — any plans — will change with the viral tide.

“We’ll look at those weekly numbers reported to the state to see if it’s getting better or worse,” he said. “Don’t make long-range plans, because you will have to change them.”

Parker said the district does not want to be a contributor to the state’s weekly COVID-19 case count. There is no set case number or weekly average to make that determination, so the district is instead following the state’s lead. If numbers are low, students might return to the fully in-person schedule as soon as October, the end of the first nine-week grading period.

Classes doubling in size would make it difficult to distance students, Parker said. As such, the A-B schedule will continue past October if numbers are still up. Even if students do return to the normal schedule, that could be rolled back — but the district would be prepared this time.

“We’re going to be flexible,” Parker said. “Once the weather changes, even when we go back, we’ll leave the A-B schedule as an option. We’ve got all the kinks and details worked out and it’ll be really simple to go back to it.” 

The A-B schedule was “something we should have considered to begin with,” as the plan came not long before classes began Aug. 7. The district originally planned to bring all students in at once, but that changed with a last-minute spike in COVID-19 cases and neighboring Forrest County was deemed a hot spot by Gov. Tate Reeves.

“We might have done a better job of planning if the decision was made earlier, but the staff feels safe, parents feel pleased and even students feel that they’re getting what they need,” Parker said.

“It’s important that we look at the seven-day moving average,” Reeves said Wednesday at a press conference, nodding to the consistent weekend drops in virus cases. “We know that on the actual daily case reports, there can be wide variability based upon when private labs are turning their numbers in.”

New confirmed cases are slowly ticking down. Last Wednesday, the seven-day average was reported at 625 — and this week, it was reported at 608. The weekly average on July 9 was 1,381 new confirmed cases.

Jones County School District board member Ronnie Herrington is set to return home next week after being in the hospital with the virus for several weeks. The Northeast Jones Tigers returned to the practice field after an outbreak among the team and will compete again Sept. 18.

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