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PRC school board adds new changes to school reopening plan

The Pearl River School District’s Board of Trustees held its regularly scheduled monthly meeting last Thursday evening to discuss an amended plan for the reopening of schools and other district business.

Director of Instruction and Professional Development Dr. Stacy Baudoin informed the board that the Mississippi Department of Education has decided to move forward with assessments during the 2020-2021 school year, even with some students attending classes virtually because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Baudoin said this was important for several reasons.

The assessments help the district understand where its students are in relation to progress and developmental milestones.

With schools shutting down early last year and the implementation of virtual learning means the assessments will help determine how the students’ education is progressing.

Dr. Baudoin said it’s also important because the data from those assessments is used by educators to come up with curriculum plans and helps teachers understand what works and doesn’t work.

Following Dr. Baudoin’s presentation, PRCSD Director of Technology Tara White came before the board to speak about virtual learning and the students who chose that education route for the first nine weeks.

Approximately 23 percent of the student population chose virtual learning prior to the start of the school year.

However, as case numbers stabilized, and district families saw the safety protocols in place to fight the spread of COVID-19, several students began asking if they could return to in-person instruction.

The Board altered the district’s reopening plan last month to allow students currently engaged in the online learning route to return to the classroom for the second nine weeks, when originally the policy had stated those students would have to wait until the second semester.

To determine the interest level of students taking online classes who want to return, a survey was sent out to all of the virtual learning students, and 45 percent of those students applied to return to a traditional classroom setting.

This means only about 13 percent of the student body will remain in virtual learning.

The influx of students could have an impact on attendance, which in turn would affect state funding.

However, Lumpkin said discussions are underway to determine if the funding policies need to be altered given the lower number of students in classrooms this year, either because they’ve chosen the virtual learning route, have transitioned to home schooling or are staying home due to COVID-19 symptoms.

In other matters, the board discussed the changes to the district’s reopening plan.

The alteration stated, “Student field trips will be reviewed and approved by the superintendent on an individual basis. The teacher/sponsor of the field trip must present a request in writing to the superintendent along with a plan for limiting exposure for students/faculty participating in the field trip.”

The change was made because several extra curricular organizations are now qualifying for regional and state competitions that would require them to travel, so Superintendent Alan Lumpkin wanted to make sure students still had those opportunities while keeping them safe from COVID-19.

The Board approved the changes to the reopening plan unanimously.

The Board also heard a presentation on what grant funds the district recently received and listened to a bond construction update.

Warren Bowen, Executive Director of Triage Facility Consultants, who is helping facilitate and lead the construction projects on each campus, gave a short update via Zoom concerning the progress being made.

At the high school, the C Building was completed along with drainage work in the high school courtyard.

The work that was scheduled to be done on the high school parking lot has been moved to Thanksgiving break.

This was done so that it wouldn’t lead to traffic jams at the school, but also because workers will have more freedom to move equipment around campus when there aren’t any students at the high school during the break.

Bowen said the remainder of the footings and grade beams will be dug for the multipurpose building over the coming weeks as progress continues on that project.

At the elementary school the AB Building is nearing completion, according to Bowen.

The floor coverings and base boards have been installed in the majority of rooms and the canopies have been installed.

The service road around the AB Building has been completed and sod will be planted in the coming weeks.

Final walkthrough of the elementary projects will take place this week.

Following Bowen’s presentation, District Business Manager TJ Burleson talked to the board about several grants the district recently received.

PRCSD received money from the COPS Program, which will be used to enhance the security of all the schools in the district.

Burleson said the district received $500,000 in federal funds with the district contributing $281,150.

The money will used to buy 60 additional cameras, 84 access control doors and 223 intercom speakers, along with a new crisis alert system at each school.

The cameras will be added to the 160 cameras scattered across campuses in the district, while the new access control doors will limit entry points for anyone who isn’t a district employee.

The speakers will be installed in classrooms to help teachers and students hear announcements and allow for clear communication in the case of an emergency.

Burleson said he understands the crisis alert system to be a device given to all teachers in the district, and if a teacher were to push a button the district would be know exactly where an emergency is taking place and be able to send out the proper personnel.

PRCSD also received $1,047,103 from the Equity in Distance Learning Grant, which the district will contribute $288,113 of its own funds to.

This will allow for the purchase of 3,350 Chromebooks, which is necessary because the district is in the last year of its current lease agreement with the Chromebooks they have now.

The district also received $207,095.61 in funding from the Mississippi Pandemic Response Broadband Availability Act Grant that didn’t require a match from the district.

Burleson said the funds will go towards improving the district’s network infrastructure by purchasing new switches, Wi-Fi access points, wiring, fiber runs and external Wi-Fi access points.

The external Wi-Fi access points will be set up in the campus parking lots, so in the case of the school having to resort to full scale virtual learning, students who don’t have access to the internet at home can drive to a campus, connect to the school Wi-Fi and do their assignments from the safety of their own vehicle.

The final grant funds Burleson spoke on was the RUS Grant, which included $228,692 in federal funds and a $50,950 match from the district.

These funds will be used to purchase 50 interactive panels and 50 camera and speaker set ups to assist teachers with virtual learning.

The interactive panels, along with the camera and speakers, will allow teachers to interact with students during virtual lessons if the district had to resort to full scale online learning.

In total, Burleson said the district has received $2,042,890.61 in grant funds with the district also contributing $620,213.50.