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County school board talks uncertainties

Students of Lincoln County schools may return to class next week — or they may not.

“This is an unprecedented time in my lifetime,” Superintendent Mickey Myers said during Monday’s Board of Trustees meeting. “I like routine. I like normalcy. We don’t have it right now at all. There’s a lot of uncertainty. What you hear from one authority figure — the next teleconference is something a little different.”

Myers said while children are not particularly susceptible to the virus, they can become carriers who bring the virus to older members of their family. Myers went on to say that he’d been in two separate teleconferences with Gov. Tate Reeves and Dr. Thomas Dobbs of the Mississippi State Department of Health, and he received mixed messages about when students would be able to return. Myers said Reeves would be reevaluating school closings at the end of the week.

“The only thing that’s consistent is how resilient our people are,” Myers said. “We’ll get through this. It’s just a storm right now.”

Myers referred to a press release published on the same day by the Mississippi Department of Education regarding how state testing would be handled in the event of schools being closed for an extended period of time. In the release, State Superintendent Carey Wright said that if schools were not able to open, she would recommend the State Board of Education suspend assessment and accountability requirements, along with some policies covering attendance, promotion and graduation.

Teachers’ pay

Myers said the Lincoln County School District has a policy that has in the past allowed them to pay employees during a state of emergency, contingent on board approval.

“We’ve done it before,” Myers said. “We did it during Katrina. We did it other times without (State) Superintendent Approval.”

Myers said there are hints that COVID-19 may be handled differently. In MDE’s press release, they said they are working with the State Legislature to address the issue of pay during an extended closure. Myers said the statement confuses the issue when many employees rely on their paycheck as their sole income.

“I want to give them some reassurance, but what the heck do I tell them?” Myers said. “I want to tell them, ‘Yeah, you’re going to get paid.’ I’ve never dealt with something with so much uncertainty before in my life. It’s a frustrating time.”

Myers said he would do everything in his power to pay employees for time missed during the closure.

Communication

Myers noted that while some staff had traveled to Europe during Spring Break, they have been notified that they must self-quarantine for 14 days. Discussions about those staff members on Facebook sparked a discussion among the board members on the importance of communicating with the public.

“The more information we can get out to all of our outlets — and one message, not 50 different messages — would be beneficial,” Board Vice President Tim Cunningham said.

Board President Justin Laird suggested up-to-date information could be posted on the district website and then shared on Facebook. Myers said the rapidly changing situation made it difficult to communicate accurate information.

“There’s so much uncertainty,” he said. “What do you send out? If you send something out that may or may not be accurate — that’s a tough call to make. It changes from day to day. It changes from one press conference to the next.”

ED 2 Trustee Billy Vaughn said he was not impressed with the district’s communication so far.

“Here’s the deal. We’ve got one school putting this on,” he said. “We’ve got one school putting this on. We’ve got another school not putting anything up. To start off we didn’t put nothing up. I’m sorry. I’m just going to hit it on the head. That’s not right.

“I went through a person messaging me — people wondering where are we — when everybody around us has sent out a generic, at least, message saying, ‘Here’s where we are.’”

Vaughn noted the number of Facebook followers for each school. According to Vaughn, Bogue Chitto had 1,582 followers, Enterprise had 2,729, Loyd Star had 2,343 and West Lincoln had 1,540.

“That’s a lot of people,” Vaughn said. “If we sent out something and give it to every school and insist they put it on that Facebook page, that gets the word out.”