Oxford School District delays start of 2020-21 school year

Published 5:25 pm Wednesday, August 5, 2020

With the surge in COVID-19 cases in Lafayette County and with the decision made by Governor Tate Reeves on Tuesday, the Oxford School District elected to delay the start of their upcoming school year.

During a special called meeting on Wednesday, the OSD Board of Trustees voted 3-2 in favor of pushing the start of school back by two weeks and begin on Aug. 24. Oxford Schools were scheduled to begin on Monday. The school year will now end on May 28.

Board president Ray Hill along with members Romona Reed and Carter Meyers voted in favor of delaying school and Board members Betsy Smith and Denny Tosh voted to keep the calendar as it was and begin school on Aug. 10.

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The decision comes a day after Reeves announced he was delaying the start of public schools in eight counties that he considered “hot spots.” Lafayette County was not among the eight, with Panola County being the closest county to be forced to delay school by the state.

“This is a decision that has not been easy for me as I have wanted, not only my child, but all children in the Oxford School District to attend school,” OSD superintendent Brian Harvey said. “However, there are circumstances that have occurred both recently and some that we’ve been watching for some time that have led me to recommend a change to the beginning of the school calendar.”

One of the reasons for Harvey’s recommendation to the Board of delaying school by two weeks was the current status of Baptist Memorial Hospital-North Mississippi.

A social media post that made its way around stated the hospital was at capacity and close to being overwhelmed. During Tuesday’s Board of Aldermen meeting, Mayor Robyn Tannehill addressed that by saying the hospital was at one point full, but is a fluid situation with discharges happening throughout the day on a daily occurrence.

Harvey sat in on a conference call with Tannehill and Dr. Bill Henning of Baptist Memorial Tuesday morning and reiterated what Tannehill said during Wednesday’s meeting.

“In that conference call we learned that while the hospital is operating in a stressed environment, they are not operating in a crisis environment,” Harvey said.”

Harvey said all the metrics he had been following since June did not recommend that school start on time with case numbers increasing.

Last month, OSD sent out a survey to parents asking them if they wanted their child to return to school for a traditional face-to-face instruction or to remain with the virtual method that all school districts swiftly pivoted to in March when COVID-19 hit Lafayette County.

As of July 10, the deadline to return the survey to OSD, there were 32 percent of parents who responded that wanted to remain with virtual to begin school and 68 percent that chose face-to-face. Since that deadline, Harvey said on Wednesday the district had received over 230 change requests from parents and 90 more since last week. 60 of the 90 occurred since Reeves’ announcement on Tuesday.

Smith’s reasoning for sticking Monday’s start date was due to the incoming University of Mississippi students over the coming weeks that may cause an uptick in cases, causing school to shut down.

“I’m obliged to think school is the safest place for these kids,” Smith said. “If these kids can go out and play soccer tournaments and baseball tournaments and go out to eat in restaurants. Educating them is essential and it’s more essential than these other activities that they’re doing. …I also think this two week data, we’re in a college town and we all know it. College kids are starting to trickle back in. I’m no medical expert but my gut tells me that our numbers are going to worsen as these college kids come from all over the place. If we have any chance for these children to be physically in school, the ones who choose to, I feel these next two weeks are our best chance.”

Corinth School District returned to school on July 27 and since then six students and one employee tested positive since school resumed, causing over 100 students to be quarantined.

With what Corinth is dealing with at the beginning of their school year, Harvey felt for the long-term of the upcoming school year the best plan for Oxford was to delay for two more weeks.

“My feeling is if we started school on Monday there is a distinct possibility that we will be forced into a long-term closure by Aug. 24,” Harvey said. “I think the best option for long-term success is to take a breath and see where we are. Although we are prepared, we have been preparing all summer, there is still work that can be done.”

A new deadline for parents to make a final choice between virtual or face-to-face instruction beginning on Aug. 24 is this Friday by 4:30 p.m.

The OSD Board also voted to amend their return to school policy to fall in line with Reeves’ mandate made on Tuesday, requiring anyone inside a school building and classroom to have a mask or facial covering on at all times. That also includes outside on school campuses when social-distancing is not possible.