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Relief rule for schools is a secret no longer

The policy is so obscure, Mississippi Dept. of Education officials say they’ve never heard of it. But it’s there in black and white, tucked away in a policy book.

The little-known rule would have allowed local schools to request more favorable enrollment numbers after a flu outbreak decimated attendance. Lincoln County and Brookhaven instead will lose about $1 million next year because so many students missed classes due to sickness.

Superintendents statewide could have sent a letter to MDE by Dec. 1, requesting protection from last year’s abnormally strong flu outbreak, but no one from the schools — or from MDE — knew that was an option.

“Nobody had ever heard of it. I was stunned,” said Brookhaven School District Superintendent Ray Carlock. “I said, ‘Why in the world didn’t y’all put that out?’ I didn’t think it was a secret we were having pockets of flu problems across the state.”

MDE should have known about the rule, and should have made districts aware of it. Like Carlock said, it was well known that flu was hurting attendance numbers at schools across the state. Every media outlet in the state covered the outbreak.

“The high rate of absenteeism should have been a red flag for MDE for certain, and I haven’t talked to another superintendent yet who knows anything about requesting a waiver,” Lincoln County Superintendent Mickey Myers said. “There has to be an open line of communication between MDE, the Legislature and local school districts, for sure.”

MDE officials said they didn’t know about the rule because no school district had ever requested relief under it.

No matter who’s to blame, there is nothing to be done now. We are guessing every superintendent in the state will know about the rule, and will use it when needed in the future. It’s a shame it took our local schools losing $1 million for that to happen.