Six more schools in the Lamar County School District have temporarily transitioned to virtual learning amidst several confirmed COVID-19 outbreaks, marking nine of the district’s 18 campuses that have switched to that measure.
Earlier this month, district officials announced that Oak Grove High School, Oak Grove Middle School and Purvis High School were undergoing a 14-day quarantine period of at-home learning. Those schools have now been followed by Purvis Middle School, Sumrall High School, Lumberton Elementary School, Oak Grove Upper Elementary School, Longleaf Elementary School and Sumrall Middle School.
“We’re following the guidelines set forth by the Mississippi Department of Health,” school district superintendent Steven Hampton said. "They say once you receive three or more outbreaks in a specific area of school, their recommendation is to consider closing the school to mitigate the spread.
“Every one of those schools, when we reached the three outbreaks, we started putting in plans. But when the dust settled, every one of those schools had multiple outbreaks - way more than three outbreaks that we totaled."
Oak Grove High School and Purvis High School are expected to move to “designated virtual learning days” - formerly known as the hybrid schedule - on Aug. 16; Oak Grove Middle School will move to that schedule on Aug. 17.
Purvis Middle School and Sumrall High School will go to designated virtual learning days on Aug. 18, followed by Lumberton Elementary School on Aug. 19. Oak Grove Upper Elementary School will return Aug. 23; Longleaf Elementary School and Sumrall Middle School will return Aug. 24.
During designated virtual learning days, students will alternate back between learning at home and on campus. All the schools in the district - kindergarten through 12th grade - will move to that system on Aug. 16.
“We’ll have two groups of students,” Hampton said. “One group of students will go Mondays and Wednesdays, and then every other Friday. The other group will go Tuesdays and Thursdays, and every other Friday.
"We’ll alternate students so that we’ll be able to socially distance in the classrooms, and we won’t have to send students home due to close contact as much. And we’ll continue to wear our face coverings."
According to data provided on the Lamar County School District website, the following numbers of positive cases were reported in district schools over the week of July 31-Aug. 6: four staff/faculty and 18 students in Lumberton Schools; eight staff/faculty and 47 students in Purvis schools; one staff/faculty and eight students in Baxterville schools; 13 staff/faculty and 116 students at Oak Grove schools; four staff/faculty and 28 students at Sumrall schools; and 12 staff/faculty and one student at other sites.
“We have received calls from schools that have been out for a week now, and we’re still receiving calls from parents, saying that their child had tested positive during the virtual times,” Hampton said. “That leads me to believe the spread is primarily outside the school atmosphere.
“We had a pediatrician come to our board meeting … and when you set the transmission of the positive rate from our community, and you set what we’re seeing inside of our schools, it’s a mirror image. It has spiked out of control from both sides.”
Hampton said the delta variant of COVID-19 is unlike what was experienced through the school system when the virus first hit the area last year.
“We did not have to go virtual with elementary schools last year; right now we have two elementary schools (in that format),” he said. “The positivity rate that we’re seeing in our younger students is way higher than what we saw last year.
“Last year was an issue with our high schools and middle schools - mainly our high schools - and it was mainly in the extracurricular activities where we had major issues. Now we’re seeing it in our younger students - much more, our younger students are having symptoms and testing positive for the COVID-19 virus.”