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Mississippi SBE provides guidelines for in-person, virtual learning options

Published: Jul. 15, 2021 at 1:09 PM CDT
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BILOXI, Miss. (WLOX) - Mississippi school districts will have the option to host in-person or virtual learning this fall.

The Mississippi State Board of Education passed two policies, which called for school districts to resume in-person instruction as the primary teaching mode starting in the 2021-22 school year. The policies also set requirements for districts that choose virtual learning options for individual students and established standards for school/district-wide virtual learning days.

Under the new policies, districts that offer a virtual option for individual students, depending on the district’s guidelines, must adopt local board-approved policies that include: virtual learning criteria, equipment requirements, attendance and student conduct rules and assurances of equal access and non-discrimination for students with disabilities.

Officials gave some clarification on the wording in rules 9.3 and 56.2 during the July 15 SBE meeting:

  1. Students in-person or virtually are required by the state to attend up to 330 minutes of instructional learning each day for 180 days per school semester.
  2. If a student is suspended from in-person learning or is pending an expulsion hearing, they can still receive virtually learning instruction if the school district allows that.
    1. Students will still need to be reported as suspended or pending an expulsion.
  3. If a student is expelled, they can not receive learning instruction in-person or virtually.
  4. Virtual Learning days can be implemented during unforeseen circumstances such as weather emergencies or an epidemic prevailing in the district.
  5. School districts must give a prior warning for all virtual learning days so that students/parents can prepare.
  6. In the case of a virtual learning day, students must be given the option to take their school devices home with them if they do not have access to a learning device at home.
    1. This is a rule intended for school districts that have policies against allowing students the option to take their devices home with them.
  7. A list of minimum requirements will be given to the local school board to review what criteria is needed to qualify for virtual learning
    1. Parents must sign a commitment document to the virtual learning program for their child/children to be registered.

All students who take part in virtual learning will be required to take statewide assessments on campus. The SBE also voted in April to end the pandemic-related flexibilities on a hybrid of in-person and distance learning.

The SBE’s action aligns with the requirements of the federal American Rescue Plan Act, which provides money to schools to help safely reopen and maintain safe operations. To receive funding, school districts must develop plans for the safe return to in-person instruction and continuity of services. School districts must also update their plans at least every six months for the next two years, until September 30, 2023, with opportunities for the public to give input before the plans are implemented.

The Mississippi State Department of Health (MSDH) is in charge of providing COVID-19 public health guidance to K-12 schools.

The Legislature provided $200 million in 2020 through the Mississippi Connects program, which provided every public-school student with a computer device to learn. The next phase of the Mississippi Connects program includes support from digital learning instructional coaches, who will help teachers, schools and districts effectively use educational technology and improve student outcomes statewide.

Virtual learning policies to start in 2021-22:

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