JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Board members with Jackson Public Schools expected Gov. Tate Reeves’ eventual announcement that schools statewide would be closed in an effort to slow the spread of coronavirus in Mississippi, according to Superintendent Dr. Errick Greene.
In fact, Greene said those members discussed and voted to close the district’s schools indefinitely on Tuesday, two days before Reeves’ executive order.
“While we are closing the buildings and the offices, we continue to have the responsibility to educate young people, and we’ve gotta think more creatively, innovatively, about how we do that, and how we do that from a distance," Greene said. “We have been thinking about contingency planning. The challenges, you just don’t know. A week ago, two weeks ago. You don’t know how long to plan for. You don’t know all of the resources that are available to you.”
The district has already identified “essential” staff members who will still work during the closure, with some doing that from home.
When asked how many employees that involved, or even what percentage of district employees would be considered essential, Greene said he didn’t have that information but would work on getting that provided to 3 On Your Side.
He did, however, provide examples of essential workers, including those working in payroll and the district’s campus police department.
“We’re by no means shutting down. We’re just rethinking how we do the work," Greene said. "That ‘essential employees’ kind of nomenclature is really just meant to signal to folks those who are on deck to do more immediate prioritized work and we’ll think over time about how others will engage.”
JPS serves as the largest school district in central Mississippi, caring for nearly 23,000 students.
Some of those students may not have access to the technology they need to learn.
Greene said they’re working on that.
“We’re looking at a more robust plan for utilizing our cable television channels to provide some instruction through that medium," Greene said.
The superintendent said employees have started giving out instructional packets at the same 12 schools that have provided supplemental breakfast and lunch meals since Wednesday.
Another plus for districts, Greene says, is the Mississippi State Board of Education’s decision to waive testing and attendance requirements.
That means students will not have to make up any closure days related to COVID-19.
Most importantly, though, Greene wants parents to know that the district appreciates the time and effort they will be putting into their students’ lives in the coming weeks.
“There’s no expectation that parents are now licensed, certified teachers, and therefore our parents across the board are automatically able to lift up the content and go to work teaching a full day’s worth of curriculum the way that our teachers have been,” Greene said. “I would stress to parents the importance of a couple of things. One, creating a schedule. Our scholars need to be on a schedule. They need to be on a schedule for what time they’re getting up, and meals, and of course, chores, as well as their instructional time, their learning time, giving them breaks for movement and exercise, and building into their days some creative outlet.”
Greene said the overwhelming changes that come with social distancing, self-quarantines and concerns about this pandemic can cause a lot of stress for students, especially if they see it affect their parents.
“That stress very quickly seeps into and kind of rolls down to our scholars, and so, we want to try and minimize the amount of stress that young people have about this new normal that’s come about for them," Greene said.