Picayune schools open with mask mandate and commitment to stay safe

Published: Aug. 5, 2021 at 6:10 PM CDT
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PICAYUNE, Miss. (WLOX) - On the first day of school for the new year, flags fly at half-staff at Picayune Memorial High, a somber reminder of what COVID-19 can do.

Within the last week, COVID-19 took the lives of a 16-year-old student and a teacher there. And as students arrive at Nicholson Elementary, their biggest lesson isn’t in a textbook.

“Boy, do we have an opportunity right now to show our kids that even though we’re going through difficult times that we don’t really enjoy it,” said Deidra Thompson, assistant principal at Nicholson Elementary. “It’s not what we want to do. Of course, we want to come to school with these masks off. But, we’ve got a duty to keep ourselves safe and to keep our friends safe. So, we’re going to work through this.”

The Picayune School District is one of several in South Mississippi to mandate masks as students begin the new school term.

“I was happy to get back in school,” said Jamalo Newsome, an eighth-grader at Picayune Junior High. “I didn’t really want to wear a mask, but I know we have to wear a mask because of COVID.”

Classmate Addison Watts agreed.

“It is important because it saves most people’s lives at home,” said Watts. “And I think I’m ok with wearing it to save people.”

The mandates mean students experience school the way it should be: face-to-face.

“Our teachers and our administrators want our kids on campus,” said General Breeland, principal of Picayune Junior High. “And if this is a tool that helps us keep the teachers safe and the students safe, we are going to do to the best of our ability what our district has asked us to do and that’s to wear a mask indoors.”

Virtual learning was not easy last year.

“I think we ended with seven that were virtual,” said Lisa Howie, principal of Nicholson Elementary. “But it’s just hard and they just didn’t feel connected to the classroom.”

Students also are good with being back in person.

“Yes, I would prefer to be in the classroom,” said Carter Thompson, a sixth-grader at Nicholson Elementary.

And, they know that facing COVID is a lesson that can apply to anything.

“Whenever it’s over,” said classmate Madison Snyder, “I think it’s a good thing that we had it just to learn about what can happen and how you get through it.”

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