Jennifer Weeks

DeSoto County Schools Assistant Superintendent Jennifer Weeks explains to the district Board of Education the academic plans for the rest of the 2019-20 school year. The plan, approved by the board during its April 2 meeting, came in reaction to the coronavirus pandemic and schools being closed in the state until at least April 17.

When students of DeSoto County Schools (DCS) return to the classroom, the requirements they face to be promoted to the next grade will have somewhat changed. School district board members Thursday approved recommendations of district administrators to adjust the academic plan for the approximately 35,000 students enrolled in Mississippi's largest school district.

The action Thursday came as teachers continue their instruction through remote learning and assignments, either online or through packet pick-ups for those who do not have internet access. Classes have not been in session since spring break due to the coronavirus pandemic and state orders to have schools closed through at least April 17.

"Our teachers are continuing to teach and our students are continuing to learn through this," DCS Supt. Cory Uselton said Thursday.

The action became available to Mississippi schools when the state Department of Education gave districts the ability to teach without state assessments or other requirements for this school year.

State testing graduation requirements have been removed. DCS has also moved the passing minimum score from 65 to 60 and lowered the needed credits for seniors to graduate from 26 to 24.

"We always want to make decisions that are in the best interest of all of our students and many of our students are facing adverse situations right now," Uselton said. "With so much uncertainty regarding the remainder of this school year, our goal is to offer our students every opportunity possible to be prepared for the 2020-21 school year."

The academic plan for the rest of this school is detailed for kindergarten, elementary, middle, and high school students.

Kindergarteners will move ahead to first grade based on learning the standards taught through the first three nine-week periods.

Students in first-through-fifth grade will be promoted based on their scores of 60 or higher for mathematics and English/Language Arts in the first three nine weeks of the year. Students with scores below that threshold may be promoted if the teacher, parents, and administrator agree to it.

If a student is in grades six-through-eight, scores of 60 or more in math and English/Language Arts again will promote them to the next grade. If the average score is in the 45-59 range, a consensus between teacher, parent, and administrator will determine if the student can move on. An average score below 45 prevents the student from promotion.

Middle school students in credit-bearing courses will get every chance to complete the core portion of the class and earn their credit. Their scores in the final nine weeks may help that ability but won't hurt their standing.

As far as senior high students are concerned. U.S. History, Biology I, Algebra I, and English II end-of-course assessments will not be given. If a student in those courses passes the course, they won't have to pass the assessment for graduation. If a student has passed the course but not the assessment, they won't have to pass the assessment in order to graduate.

Scores of 60 or more in a course taken in the second semester will earn a Carnegie Unit for the course.

There were other directives concerning students taking half-credit courses in the final quarter. Dual credit courses have now transitioned to online courses they must continue to meet their college requirements.

"There is no perfect formula for this type of situation, but our teachers and administrators are working diligently to provide the best education possible under the circumstances," Uselton said. "These academic changes were driven by feedback from our schools and we also collaborated with other school districts around the state. We don't want our students to be penalized academically as a result of this situation."

In other action from Thursday's meeting, with social distancing in place and board member Sheila Riley taking part by telephone, a request for a one-year waiver for class weighting was approved. Bids of Furniture Specialists for classroom furniture in the ninth-grade addition at DeSoto Central High School and HCONE International Impex LLC for classroom furniture for the DeSoto Central Middle School addition were approved. However, due to confusion by a vendor about the number of items needed for furniture for the addition at Hernando Middle School, the bids were all rejected and the project was set out to be bid on again.