Lewisburg roads

This depicts the condition of one of the rural DeSoto County roads in the Lewisburg area that members of the school district’s transportation team came upon Thursday afternoon. Officials estimated more than half of the roads in the Lewisburg attendance zone were unsafe for buses to travel and similar conditions were found throughout the countywide school district.

Courtesy photo

DeSoto County Schools Supt. Cory Uselton said Friday he was optimistic his district’s attendance centers would be back in session Monday after having been forced to close the past week due to ice and snowy weather.

Meanwhile, the leader of Mississippi’s largest school district received some good news at the state level about not having to meet the state’s requirement of 180 days to complete a school year.

During the week, Uselton, other district superintendents in North Mississippi and area legislators reached out to Gov. Phil Bryant and state Education Department Supt. Dr. Carey Wright regarding the state mandate.

Late Friday morning, Bryant declared a State of Emergency for those school districts affected by the icy, snowy weather. The declaration allows for a waiver of the requirement that Mississippi public schools be in session for 180 days, pending state Education Department approval.

In the state of emergency declaration, Bryant stated, “This extreme weather has caused hazardous driving conditions, damage to homes, business, and public property, preventing access to and causing many schools to be closed.

“These school closures may create a situation where it will not be economically feasible or practicable to operate some schools for the full 180 days required for a scholastic year.”

The state of emergency declaration addresses school days lost since Monday, Jan. 15.

While the declaration allows a waiver, the Mississippi Department of Education still retains authority to actually provide for affected districts to be in school fewer than 180 days this school year.

MDE officials had not immediately announced their decision on the matter.

As of Friday, make-up snow days for three of the five lost classroom days to weather had been identified as Friday, Feb. 16, Monday, Feb. 19 and Monday, April 2 to make up for closing classes on Friday, Jan. 12, Tuesday, Jan. 16 and Wednesday, Jan. 17.

No announcement had been made regarding Thursday and Friday of this week.

Legislators in North Mississippi supported the call to declare a State of Emergency with a letter signed by lawmakers representing voters in the First Congressional District to the governor.

Uselton added school district attorney Jim Keith was reviewing legal options for the district, as well.

“Our local legislators reached out to state education board members and our school board attorney is looking through state statutes to see what type of relief there may be in these kind of situations,” Uselton said.

Uselton said safety is his top priority involving decisions to hold classes or not, but he believes students, teachers, staff and administrators are anxious to restart the school year next week.

Despite temperatures warming above freezing for the first time in several days on Thursday, Uselton Friday morning said conditions in DeSoto County had not improved to the point where he felt it was safe enough to hold classes.

“We sent our transportation team out about three o’clock Thursday afternoon to start looking at some of the areas we had identified on Wednesday as problem areas,” Uselton said. “There just wasn’t enough progress made on those roads. It wasn’t just icy spots, it was stretches of ice, anywhere from a quarter-mile to a mile long of ice.”

District Chief Operations Officer Rob Chase estimated Friday that more than half of the roads in the Lewisburg school area on Thursday were not safe for buses to travel on, but areas identified as problem areas were noted on a map throughout the county.

“By seeing those conditions and knowing that we were going to see children in buses, parents taking their children to school and teenage drivers on those roads, I just felt that it was too much of a risk for us to have a school day Friday,” said Uselton, adding,” “We are ready to go on Monday.”

Bob Bakken is Staff Writer and may be reached at 662-429-6397 ext. 240.

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