Mississippi schools closed in March right after Spring Break, and students have been out of school since that time.
As we approach the traditional first days of school, various schools are reporting various return strategies for reopening. Some are offering a hybrid model where students come two or three days a week, some full time, and some offering full distance learning to students who would prefer that. Some schools are requiring kids to wear masks all day, some aren’t. Some are ending recess. Some are shutting down the cafeteria.
Like most things with government education, it generally depends on where you live.
The state Board of Education released an outline earlier this summer, which covered strategies for how schools should approach reopening, whichever path they followed. After all, it will be up to each district to decide on what reopening looks like.
In response to the pandemic, various pots of federal money are coming to schools in Mississippi.
As part of the CARES Act, schools are receiving about $170 million. This is money that can be used on various services, including training and professional development, cleaning supplies, technology, mental health services, etc.
Also, as part of the $1.25 billion in stimulus funds that went to the state, the legislature will be sending $150 million for schools to purchase computers for students. By this point, government schools should have money to ensure schools are clean and students have the necessary technology to learn.
It is well established that children are much less likely than adults to become severely ill or require hospitalization because of coronavirus. Those under 20 are half as likely to contract the illness in the first place and they are likely to be either asymptomatic or have mild symptoms.
The American Academy of Pediatrics issued a statement “strongly advocating that all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with a goal of having students physically present in school” and urging “policies to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 within schools must be balanced with the known harms to children, adolescents, families, and the community by keeping children at home.”
Further, in countries that reopened this spring, there has been no evidence of increase community spread of the virus.
We can then make online learning, something the we have long advocated and something the state has long resisted, available to students with serious health conditions or who live in households where family members have health problems that put them in high-risk categories.
Homeschooling is a great option for families who want to homeschool. It is not a good option to try government-forced homeschooling and expect single-parents or those where both parents work to exit the workforce to educate their children.
Given what we know about coronavirus and the subsequent failure of government schools to provide a credible distance education during the lockdown, all schools should be reopened for full-time, in-person instruction for the majority of Mississippi school children.
If schools are not reopened for full-time, in person instruction, money should be returned to the customer. After all, if a store closes because of the pandemic, they no longer receive money from customers they are no longer serving.
This is how education should work. We fund students. By directing the tax dollars allocated for that student to the family, they would be able to pursue the best education option for their child. That may be a private school. Or it may be a series of tutors, online resources, or a combination of services.
There is a group in Mississippi saying schools shouldn’t open until there are zero active cases in their specific county. While that would certainly be detrimental to children, if government schools aren’t providing a service, they shouldn’t get paid.