Despite the COVID-19 pandemic forcing schools around the world to adopt alternate learning models, the Petal School District was able to eventually integrate a traditional school setting for the 2020-2021 school year that served more than 97 percent of the district’s students.
Per the district’s Return to School Plan for the 2021-2022 school year, officials will utilize that same model this year, with safety protocols aimed at ensuring the health and well-being of students and staff. The plan for the new school year, which begins August 3, was recently approved by the school district’s board of trustees.
“The big-ticket item that many people want to know about is if masks are required or optional,” school district superintendent Matt Dillon said. “The answer is, as of right now, they’re optional in our district for both staff and students; it’s a personal choice for families right now.
“In the event that something changes with guidance and other things, or if numbers (of COVID cases) increase in our schools, we’ll have to look at that and make some adjustments. Masks, however, will be mandated on school buses, because that is a federal mandate, and just due to the nature of having a lot of kids in a small, confined area, it’s the wise thing to do right now.”
Officials also will follow many of the same protocols from last year, including providing handwashing and sanitizing stations; disinfecting frequently-touched items such as doorknobs and bathroom fixtures; and providing information on best practices for hygiene. Students will be encouraged to maintain distance from each other in the school, and personal water bottles will be encouraged.
Appropriate measures will be taken for cleaning Chromebooks and other technology devices, and students will be informally observed for illness and referred to the school nurse as needed.
Pre-K through sixth-grade students will keep their own supplies for use in the classroom; Pre-K through fourth-grade students will remain with their cohorts during instructional times. Each of the five schools in the district is staffed by a full-time registered nurse, and nurses will provide COVID safety and training materials to school faculty and staff.
“We’ll continue to do that and work with our custodial staff,” Dillon said. “Our teachers played a major role in that last year and did an exceptional job of keeping a safe environment for our students.
“In addition, during class changes - when feasible - we will make sure we have one-flow direction. We’ll use all the different areas we can, both inside and outside - depending on the age of the kids - just to make sure we minimize the amount of people in the hallways at any given time.”
Visitors to any of the district’s campuses will be required to participate in temperature checks before being allowed inside facilities, and students or staff members with a fever of 100 or more - or any symptoms of COVID-19 - should not be present at school at any time. The district will quarantine individuals who have had close contact with the virus in accordance with with guidance from the Mississippi Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control.
As far as athletic events are concerned, guidelines from the Mississippi High School Activities Association will be followed regarding player and spectator safety.
Changes to the plan, which can be found in full at www.petalschools.com, may become necessary at anytime based on local regulations or guidelines from the Mississippi State Department of Health.
“Everything is subject to change, based on the many meetings that I have to attend at the local and state level regarding changes in what’s happening around us with COVID,” Dillon said.