The DeSoto County Board of Education has passed a Return-to-School Plan that DeSoto County Schools will be using as it works toward getting youngsters back in their classrooms the first week of August. The plan was agreed upon during Tuesday’s meeting of the school board in Hernando that included reviewing the district budget proposal for the coming fiscal year.
Supt. Cory Uselton, in a letter to district parents after the board’s approval Tuesday, wrote he expects that parents should know on or before July 17 exactly how the move back to the classroom will be done.
“There are still many uncertainties with COVID-19, and plans could change as a result of new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control, the Governor’s Office, the Mississippi State Department of Health, and/or the Mississippi Department of Education,” Uselton said. “Because COVID-19 guidelines change often, the plan will be developed while state-level guidance is monitored on a daily basis throughout the summer.”
Several factors will be involved in exactly how being back in school will work, Uselton said. Students with a higher risk of severe illness must be accommodated, social distancing and safety concerns, along with general operating procedures will be considered. The superintendent added the plan will have contingencies in place in case of new statewide or localized school closures.
Parents and school staff had a chance to offer their input in a survey that was sent out. Uselton said about 14,000 parent responses and about 3,000 faculty and staff responses were returned. The majority wants to see kids back in class instead of a hybrid plan or going back to the distance learning that dominated the remaining months of the 2019-2020 school year.
However, Uselton added contingencies using a hybrid or distance learning method will be in place in case DCS has to go back to those procedures.
The school district is also working on hiring more school nurses, so that each elementary, middle, and high school has a full-time nurse on campus for the upcoming school year.
“We realize there are many uncertainties related to COVID-19,” Uselton said. “Every family situation is different, and we all know that there is no perfect solution in regards to returning to school. This will be a team effort.”
Parents are being asked to be ready for any adjustments, in case of developments preventing the current plan from moving forward.
“State guidance could change, and there could be more closures if there are increases in COVID-19 cases,” Uselton said. “We just ask for everyone to be flexible as we maneuver through these challenging times,” adding, “We have already asked our principals to submit procedures that they can put in place to minimize the risk of COVID-19 transmission on their campuses. We will also ask for input from the Teacher Advisory Council during this process.”
Board members Tuesday reviewed the budget proposal for the coming year and Uselton said the tax asking will not mean an increase to the overall millage rate.
“Even though there were some additions to the budget related to COVID-19, there were no cuts made that will affect the instructional process,” Uselton said. “We are excited that we are able to hire more teachers and address issues related to COVID-19 with no increase to the overall millage rate.”
COVID-19 response did include the additional hiring of the 17 school nurses so that each campus has a full-time school nurse on staff. Past financial dealings have given DCS the ability to keep the tax askings low.
“Because of the disruptions caused by COVID-19, this was the most challenging budgeting process that we have ever faced,” said Uselton. “We still are uncertain about our allocation from the state level, so we are having to estimate our state revenues. We are conservative with the budget each year so we can be prepared for future challenges.”
The school district budget should be approved at the board’s next meeting, Thursday, June 18, 10 a.m. at DCS Central Services in Hernando.