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Attendance remains high in some Miss. school districts despite Omicron surge

Superintendents digest MSDH guidance which debuted after start of spring semester
Published: Jan. 19, 2022 at 8:23 PM CST
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - As another wave of coronavirus hits Mississippi schools, attendance remains high at several districts in spite of a more contagious variant than the state has ever seen before.

“In late July, there were hopes of some return to normalcy. And then early August, that was not quite the case,” said Clinton Public Schools Superintendent Andy Schoggin.

Schoggin said the Delta variant’s impact on his district and Omicron are very different.

“I’ll go back to my conversation I had with our local pediatrician. He said really, this is very comparable to a flu outbreak in terms of... there are students who are going to be sick, they’re going to be ill for a certain amount of time,” Schoggin said. “And then they’re going to recover and be able to return and participate in school.”

That shortened recovery time, he said, helps contribute to a 91 to 93 percent attendance rate over the last week.

Typical attendance is 95 percent.

“To say that we’re two to four percent lower than what a goal would be for daily attendance during a non-pandemic year says that there’s a lot of confidence in the things that are going on,” Schoggin said. “There’s also that demand for in-person instruction from our community.”

What about if that confidence wasn’t there and more students were affected? When does the district switch gears and go virtual again?

Madison County Superintendent Charlotte Seals said the answer isn’t that simple.

“What we’ve learned is that we got to stop, you know, move away from making as many unilateral decisions and look at it on a site by site and even dig further, maybe a grade level by grade level decision,” Seals said.

Newly-released guidance from the Mississippi State Department of Health recommends universal indoor mask use regardless of one’s vaccination status, physical distancing in classrooms and routine testing of all asymptomatic students, teachers and staff who are not up to date with their vaccinations.

They also recommend those who test positive to self-isolate for at least five days, returning only after they have no symptoms and are fever-free.

That student would then have to continue to wear a mask for 5 additional days.

Wednesday’s issuance of the K-12 recommendations -- without any accompanying press release or fanfare from MSDH -- comes after nearly all Mississippi schools have already returned.

Clinton Public Schools started two weeks ago.

Many school district superintendents like Schoggin utilized guidance from the Centers for Disease Control released in mid-December -- including the five-day isolation period -- because no updated recommendations from the state’s own health experts had been released since the Omicron wave hit Mississippi.

“What we found is that that five-day cycle has been pretty continuous,” Schoggin said. “We’ll have students who are out for that time [and] 99 percent are able to return within that five days and are fine.”

Madison County Schools adopted that portion as well.

Seals would not say how much of the district’s own return policies would change now that MSDH guidance has been released, in part, because they just received it.

“We will study it. And then if we share that information with our board, and we feel like we need to make adjustments, we’ll certainly do that. I respect totally what the Department of Health recommends, they’re looking at it from a true physical health standpoint, that’s their job. As a superintendent for a school district, I have to look at that,” Seals said. “But I also have to look at keeping my eye on the prize in terms of educating our students, the whole child. Health is measured in different ways, not just the virus that obviously [results in] case counts, but we also have to look at the mental health, the spiritual health of a student. And so we have to find that balance.”

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