Jackson County School District votes to bring virtual students back to the classroom

Jackson County School District's virtual learners will return to class

ST. MARTIN, Miss. (WLOX) - Students in the Jackson County School District who have been learning virtually will soon be back in the classroom.

The district’s Board of Education voted Monday night to bring all virtual students back to campus beginning Oct. 13, 2020, which is the first day of the second nine weeks.

“We have a serious crisis regarding the majority of our virtual students who are failing, and our teachers and school staff are burning out very quickly," said JCSD Superintendent Dr. John Strycker.

Strycker referenced recent data regarding the number of virtual students who are failing coursework for the first nine weeks.

That data indicates that more than half of the high school and middle school students enrolled in the district’s virtual learning program are failing one subject. The number of students failing was significantly lower for elementary students.

Dr. Strycker referenced recent data regarding the number of virtual students who are failing coursework for the first nine weeks.
Dr. Strycker referenced recent data regarding the number of virtual students who are failing coursework for the first nine weeks. (Source: Jackson County School District)

“This data is compelling evidence that our students need to be back in school,” Strycker said, noting that the district experienced a 37% decrease in student COVID-19 cases from August to September and that the numbers continue to drop.

Necessary adjustments and additional precautions have been put in place since the onset of COVID-19, said district officials.

Citing an outbreak at East Central Middle School where student cases went from 36 during the first five weeks of school down to zero cases over the last four weeks, the district said the interventions in place have proven effective.

Necessary adjustments and additional precautions have been put in place since the onset of COVID-19, said district officials.
Necessary adjustments and additional precautions have been put in place since the onset of COVID-19, said district officials. (Source: Jackson County School District)

At Monday’s school board meeting, Director of Curriculum and Administration, Dr. Penny Westfaul, presented a plan recommending that K-8 virtual students return to school the second nine weeks, and that high school students “phase-in” over the second semester. However, during the discussion, the school board members insisted that all students return to campus at the beginning of the second nine weeks.

“Upon review of the data, each day a high school student is not in school seems to be a day they fall further behind in most cases,” said Board of Education President, Troy Frisbie. “Let’s get them back safely.”

Three JCSD teachers also gave sincere testimonies regarding the stress level that teachers and staff are feeling about the failure of students and the additional hours necessary to simultaneously teach students at home and at school.

“Over the past four weeks, I have had 10 students return from virtual learning," said St. Martin Middle School teacher Briley Richmond. "Of those 10 students, all 10 are behind when compared to those who have been in my classroom. Even those who have submitted completed work are behind.”

“We are especially grateful to Dr. Michael Cunningham, Interventional Cardiologist and Co-Director of the Structural Heart Program at Singing River Health System, for joining us in our Health Advisory Committee meeting," said Dr. Westfaul. "Dr. Cunningham feels that the danger of psychological damage to virtual learning students outweighs the potential negative effects from COVID-19 that they could face by returning to the traditional classroom setting. However, he agrees that there are certain circumstances for students that could still necessitate virtual learning.”

Dr. Westfaul then reviewed with the board members the specific list of medical exemptions that will still necessitate virtual learning for certain students. The list of conditions was developed by the district’s Health Advisory Committee.

However, a list of those conditions has not yet been provided.

“We realize that the transition back to school for virtual students will be challenging," said Dr. Strycker. "However, we truly care about our students and feel strongly that they need to be back in school. We will work closely with parents during this transition and will make provisions for the students who are returning who may be behind.”

If there are any questions or concerns regarding this press release, please contact Superintendent John Strycker at 228-283-3000.

Copyright 2020 WLOX. All rights reserved.