As the Delta variant of the COVID-19 virus continues to cause challenges for schools worldwide, officials from the Petal School District are maintaining a close eye on infection numbers and stand ready to take measures as applicable, while remaining committed to in-school learning as much as possible.
According to numbers from the school district’s website, for the week of August 16-20 the district showed a positivity rate of 2.6 percent among students throughout the district’s five campuses. Among staff, that number was 1.6 percent.
“We’re monitoring our numbers daily; we look at them multiple times a day, and we’re working closely with each one of our schools to ensure where our numbers are,” school district superintendent Matt Dillon said. “What we’re finding is, Monday is typically a challenging day coming off the weekend.
“We have typically more students that we deal with who are either symptomatic, or they have testing done over the weekend of some sorts. Then after Monday - Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday - the numbers have gone done each week. That’s been over a two-week period, from a positivity rate.”
The school district boasts an enrollment of 4,241; of that number, there were 112 new positive cases among students during the week of August 16-20. There were 472 new quarantines during that period.
Among staff - of which there are 669 in the district - there were 11 new positive cases during the aforementioned time period, along with 18 new quarantines.
Those numbers are broken down as following:
- Petal Primary School: Features an enrollment of 1,051 students, with 26 new positive cases and 146 new quarantines among that number. Of 142 staff members, there were four new positive cases and six new quarantines. That is a percentage of 2.4 percent among students and 2.8 percent among staff.
- Petal Elementary School: Features an enrollment of 600 students, with 13 new positive cases and 66 new quarantines among that number. Of 75 staff members, there were two new positive cases and six new quarantines. That is a percentage of 2.1 percent among students and 2.6 percent among staff.
- Petal Upper Elementary School: Features an enrollment of 607 students, with 14 new positive cases and 63 new quarantines among that number. Of 73 staff members, there were no new positive cases and two new quarantines. That is a percentage of 2.3 percent among students and 0 percent among staff.
- Petal Middle School: Features an enrollment of 760 students, with 30 new positive cases and 92 new quarantines among that number. Of 78 staff members, there were two new positive cases and one new quarantine. That is a percentage of 3.9 percent among students and 2.5 percent among staff.
- Petal High School: Features an enrollment of 1,223 students, with 29 new positive cases and 105 new quarantines among that number. Of 134 staff members, there were two new positive cases and two new quarantines. That is a percentage of 2.3 percent month students and 1.4 percent among staff.
“Obviously, again, we’re monitoring our numbers and working closely with our school nurses, administration, parents and families,” Dillon said. “As of right now, all of our buildings have a 10-percent quarantine so that they have to wear masks. That’s what the trigger is, then we re-evaluate after every two weeks based on that trigger.
“We’re looking at it very closely, and just trying to be sure that we have a safe environment for our students. We know kids learn best when they’re in school, but at the same time we have to look at the other factors as well, so we’re in constant contact with our people to make sure we know where we stand each and every day to make decisions based on that.”
Officials also are facing challenges from some of the guidelines set forth by the Mississippi State Department of Health, which state if three positive cases of the virus are confirmed in one defined academic setting, that situation is deemed an outbreak. At that point, all students and faculty in that setting are required to quarantine for 10 days via some form of virtual learning.
“If you have X amount of students in the classroom that are positive, no matter where they might sit, then those students have to go home in the entire class,” Dillon said. “That’s thrown our quarantine numbers up, based on that protocol that we follow."
At the Aug. 10 meeting of the Petal School District Board of Trustees, board members agreed to a 10-day mask mandate at Petal Primary School, Petal Middle School and Petal High School. That mandate, which was put in place in an effort to continue hosting in-person classes while keeping students and faculty safe in the face of rising COVID numbers, has now been extended across all five campuses and will be re-evaluated on a regular basis.
“We have a trigger in order to get off the masks - we have to get a certain number - so we’re going to be sending out information to our parents within 12 hours of when the mask requirement is supposed to come up, to let them know one way or the other,” Dillon said. “We have that constant communication with the parents to let them know whether we’re coming back to masks being highly recommended, or we’re staying with masks requirements.
"That’s just depending on what the numbers are once that 10-day window is up. Then from there, we’ll measure once every five days, so for example, after hitting the trigger of 10 percent at a building, we’ll stay at masks for 10 days. Then at the end of 10 days, if we’re not where we need to be, then we’ll do masks for an additional five days, measure it from there, then we’ll go in five-day increments based on percentages at each building.”
District officials also continue to abide by the 2021-22 Return to School Plan, which sets in place several safety protocols aimed at ensuring the health and well-being of students and staff. The plan for the new school year, which began Aug. 3, was recently approved by the school district’s board of trustees.
Changes to the plan, which can be found in full at www.petalschools.com, may become necessary at any time based on local regulations or guidelines from the Mississippi State Department of Health.
“Last year, masks were mandated in every district statewide, but not every district statewide was able to stay in school all year long,” Dillon said. ‘So our protocols are equally as important as anything that we do, so we have tight protocols with sanitation, our buses and our schools.
“We have one-way traffic in the halls when feasible to keep kids distanced and things of that nature; those things are so important, in addition to other things we do. Tight protocols are something we enforce every week, and our teachers are doing a really good job working with our students on spraying down those frequent touch spots in our classrooms. Also, our custodial staff sprays down frequent touch spots in our hallways and bathrooms and things like that, so it’s just been a group effort. Our bus drivers are spraying down our buses after each route, and we have hand sanitizer everywhere, and we’re trying to do all those same protocols that allowed us to stay in school all year last year."