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SBE sets policies with emphasis on return to in-person learning

The Mississippi State Board of Education is looking forward to getting kids back in the classroom this upcoming school year. 

After the pandemic drastically altered the past two school years, the SBE has set policies that call for all school districts to resume “in-person instruction as the primary mode of teaching” starting in the 2021-22 school year. Two policies passed by the SBE also set requirements for districts that choose to offer a virtual learning option to individual students and establish standards for virtual learning days.

The SBE’s action aligns with the requirements of the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARP), which provides money to schools to help safely reopen and maintain safe operations.

As a requirement of the ARP, school districts receiving funds must develop a plan for the safe return to in-person instruction and continuity of services. School districts must update their plans at least every six months through September 30, 2023. Districts must seek public input on their plans take such input into account when revising their plans.

The Mississippi State Department of Health (MSDH) recently stated that they’ll be issuing updated guidelines for schools prior to the start of the school year. The CDC did announce that vaccinated teachers and students no longer need to wear masks in schools. Governor Tate Reeves stated that he has no intention of requiring masks in schools this year. 

Additional information regarding the new polices passed by the SBE was included in a news release this afternoon. 

Under the SBE policies, districts that offer a virtual option for individual students must adopt local board-approved policies that include the criteria for students to participate in virtual learning, requirements for equipment, connectivity, attendance and student conduct, and assurances of equal access and non-discrimination and the delivery of Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) for students with disabilities.

All students who take part in virtual learning will be required to take statewide assessments on campus.

 The SBE’s proposed policies will allow districts to provide schoolwide or districtwide virtual learning days in the event of unforeseen circumstances such as weather emergencies or an epidemic prevailing in the district. However, districts must ensure any virtual learning days include actual teaching for a minimum of 330 minutes, as state law requires. Districts are required to provide a minimum of 180 days of instruction.

 The SBE provided districts with broad flexibility in the 2020-21 school year to help manage the COVID-19 outbreak. Districts were allowed to meet the 180-day teaching requirement through traditional, virtual or a hybrid of in-person and distance learning. The SBE voted in April to end the pandemic-related flexibilities.

 To assist with virtual learning, the Legislature provided $200 million in 2020 through the Mississippi Connects program, which provided every public-school student with a computer device to learn. The next phase of the Mississippi Connects program includes professional development and support from digital learning instructional coaches, who will help teachers, schools and districts effectively use educational technology and improve student outcomes statewide.

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