Superintendent Stands by Plan to Return
Oxford, Mississippi (July 27, 2020) — Concerns from parents and staff rise alongside Covid-19 cases across the state, and like all school districts, Oxford is fielding emails and calls from concerned parents. Oxford School District was one of the first districts in Mississippi to cancel school in March to reduce to spread of infection and launched online learning within two weeks for all students with learning platforms already in use by the district. Administration of the OSD has plans for a staggered start to begin on August 10th for odd grades, August 11th for even grades, and all students will join together on August 12th. The staggered start provides an increase in staff available to help students with procedures and protocols on the first days of school.
On July 6, Oxford School District announced Return-to-Learn plans with two options: face-to-face in the classroom or online learning at home. Parents were given a choice and 68 percent of the district will send their children back to the classroom for the first nine weeks. "We have given parents the opportunity to choose what is right for their family. Educators have to consider what is the best thing for all children and we have a responsibility to help meet the needs of our families. I am confident that Oxford is ready to open safely," said OSD Superintendent Brian Harvey. District plans came from months of heavy and lengthy decisions, planning, and evaluation of available resources.
The number of questions continues to grow from parents and staff. "If we see that learning is not what it needs to be at the end of the first nine weeks, we will adjust. We have done it before and we can do it again," Harvey said. "We have to make sure that we provide the support systems necessary for online learning to be as successful as learning in the classroom." The district has begun professional development for teachers during the summer months and will be offering parent training in August for at-home learning.
Some school districts are still considering a delayed start to school until after Labor Day. Harvey says he has given much consideration to the pros and cons and feels that unless a delay is supported by the state, delaying the start of school until after Labor Day simply "feels like we are kicking it down the road a little bit" without much effectiveness. However, the list of cons is quite lengthy. If the district delays, students have to make up that amount of time next summer. Schools have not received word about testing next year, and if Oxford delays the first semester, testing will happen when students have only received half of their instruction. The looming concern is the financial implications of delaying the start of school. The ability to pay all employees is about to expire on July 31st for Mississippi school districts under the current state policy revisions.
The district's procedures include steps to reduce the spread of infection and reduce the number of students gathering in public spaces. Each year, the district addresses flu season with reminders such as frequent hand washing and covering your cough, but with Covid-19, hand washing and cleaning will be incorporated into the school day and each classroom. "Operations is hyper-focused on three different steps of cleaning, disinfection, sanitizing, and building air quality. Fortunately, the supply chain for items such as face masks, hand sanitizer, and cleaning solutions has not hindered us at this point," says Harvey.
Before the Covid-19 pandemic, the district had plans for a grand opening of the brand new Central Elementary School and a new Fine Arts Center at Oxford High- both buildings a result of the 2017 bond referendum. "We are approaching the end of construction and both buildings are on target to open in time for the start of school next month. Once the social distancing protocols are relaxed, we will celebrate with a proper grand opening and invite the community in to see these beautiful campus additions," said Heather Lenard, OSD Public Information Officer.
The district's leadership team shares information as it becomes available on oxfordsd.org/Covid19 and its various communication channels.