OSD Superintendent further addresses COVID at Oxford Schools

Published 3:25 pm Friday, January 14, 2022

The Oxford School District is experiencing a shortage in teachers and faculty who are in quarantine due to COVID-19 exposure.

OSD Superintendent Bradley Roberson confirmed a total of 107 out of about 500 staff members, about 20%, were out due to COVID-19. Roberson was unable to confirm the number of classes and students in quarantine and the number of staff members out at each school campus.

Roberson and the OSD office have received calls from parents concerned about the lack of a mask mandate and their children being constantly exposed to COVID-19.

A parent of an OSD, who chose to remain anonymous, said they feel like the district is not being upfront with information regarding COVID at their schools, which puts their children at risk.

“Right now, I feel like it’s worse for our kids to go to school than it is to go to Walmart because of the amount of people that are positive within a small classroom,” said the source.

On January 5, the Oxford School District Board of Trustees called a special board meeting to discuss COVID-19 safety guidelines and precautions. The board voted to only strongly recommend masks, but not enforce a mask mandate.

During the special meeting, Roberson cited CNN Medical Analyst Dr. Leana Wen’s research on cloth masks that showed face coverings were pretty much ineffective against coronavirus.

In a more recent statement to The Eagle, he said OSD is committed to following guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Mississippi State Department of Health to help reduce the number of employees and students who must miss school, but guidance has become more unclear with the introduction of the Omicron variant.

“We have seen a wide disparity in the models school districts and businesses are using to combat COVID,” said Roberson. “We are continuing to research schools that have mask mandates as well as optional policies and the impact that they have on student and teacher attendance. There are school districts that have mask mandates that have closed schools. There are schools without mask mandates that haven’t had to close. That is why these decisions are so difficult for leaders.”

In the past day, Lafayette County has gained 396 COVID-19 cases and one COVID-19 related death. No LTC facility outbreaks have been reported. With continuously rising COVID-19 cases, many wonder if this will finally prompt OSD to issue a mask mandate. Roberson said he is not comfortable with issuing a mask mandate at this time.

” … I do however, strongly encourage our students and families to do both — wear a mask and get vaccinated,” he said. “I wear a mask every time I step inside an Oxford School District school. I am also vaccinated and boosted. But there are others who don’t believe the same way that I do, I have [to] respect their perspectives as well.”

Rising cases are also pushing Mississippi schools back to virtual learning, which is a big point of contention for school officials. Many districts reported lower assessment scores because of student’s learning loss.

Roberson said virtual learning is not off the table, but it will be OSD’s last option.

“If we have learned anything over the last two and a half years, it’s that there is no guaranteed method on how to stop COVID,” said Roberson. “One thing that remains true is that in-person learning continues to be the best instructional approach for the majority of our students.”

INSTRUCTIONAL METHODS – In Person only

ELA English II Math Algebra Science Biology I
# Tested 1296 211 1296 247 440 238
# Prof &Abv 674 118 773 122 302 150
% Prof & Abv 52.01% 55.92% 59.65% 49.39% 68.64% 63.03%

INSTRUCTIONAL METHODS – VIRTUAL at any point

ELA English II Math Algebra Science Biology I
# Tested 662 105 663 127 225 113
#Prof & Abv 282 36 276 49 135 55
% Prof & Abv 42.60% 34.29% 41.63% 38.58% 60.00% 48.67%

The table above, data submitted by Roberson, shows the discrepancy between the performance of Oxford School District students that participated in in-person learning all year versus the performance of students that participated in virtual learning at any point during the 2020-2021 school year. The proficiency scores are based on the required Mississippi state assessments.

According to Roberson, the lack of certainty and sure answers is why leaders are struggling but he has found an approach that will help OSD find the right path and make progress.

” … I have recently adopted the one day at a time approach,” he said. “Looking too far ahead causes unneeded stress on all of us. I know how important it is to maintain a safe and orderly environment, and we will [take] steps deemed necessary to do this. I also know how important it is to keep our students in school to continue providing the best possible learning experiences. As we navigate these uncharted challenges and consider what is in the best interest of our school community, we ask for your patience.”

For the Oxford School District’s weekly updates on COVID-19, visit www.oxfordsd.org/covid19.