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County school district working to keep pandemic cases at minimum

Reopening schools in the middle of a pandemic has been a challenging task, but Pearl River School District Superintendent Alan Lumpkin said the staff and students are just glad to be back.
This week, Lumpkin spoke to members of the Exchange Club of Picayune, sharing stats and the plans put in to effect to keep the staff and students safe.
Lumpkin said that while policies were put in place statewide, it was up to each individual school district to determine the best methods to meet those requirements. The district implemented policies to keep parents out of the campuses, screening measures to ensure sick students were not admitted to class and training so the staff could determine if a student exhibited symptoms at a glance.
While the original reopening plan did not include the mandated use of face masks, the students and teachers have bought into the need to implement them to ensure the number of cases at the school remains low.
During the first two weeks of school, Lumpkin said that an average of 4.5 students and 2.5 employees have tested positive for COVID-19, with an average of 33 students needing to be quarantined due to possible exposure to a person who tested positive, either at the school or at their own home.
The hardest thing for Lumpkin during the pandemic was walking empty campuses from March through the summer.
“School campuses were built for kids,” Lumpkin said.
So it’s been a positive note that the students have bought into the need to social distance in hallways, use masks when social distancing is not possible, and clean their own desk at the end of each class period. Another precaution includes teachers being the only person who closes and opens the door to a particular class. On the school bus, only one student occupies a seat, unless there are siblings riding the bus together.
This year, virtual learning was offered to all students in the Pearl River County School District, and so far 20 percent, or about 600 students, have opted to learn via that route. Lumpkin said that the families had to prove they have home access to the Internet to qualify for virtual learning.
While providing that instruction has put additional strain on the teachers, Lumpkin said the district was already on a path to implement more technology in the lesson plan, so they were more prepared because of that. To make time for the virtual learning sessions, school days have been shortened. Middle and high school students are released from the physical class at 1 p.m., then from 1 to 3 p.m. the teachers switch gears to providing virtual lessons.
At the elementary campus, there is a dedicated teacher whose only focus is providing virtual classes.
Due to the increased workload, one of the things the teachers need most is appreciation.
“They already had a tough job, now their job is a lot tougher,” Lumpkin said.
The current policy is to close a classroom if three or more cases are recorded in a class. If three or more classrooms have to shutter due to cases, then the entire campus has to close, Lumpkin said.
In an effort to ensure the campuses are as clean as possible, the district increased its sanitation contract by $94,000 and added three more custodial staff.
As for football games, which started this week, tickets for each home game are sold only to participants of the football team, band, dance team and cheer team. Each participant can purchase up to two tickets for their family Monday through Thursday. Any leftover tickets are offered for sale on Friday, again only to the participants. Lumpkin said no tickets will be sold at the gate the night of the game. The visiting team’s participants also gets an opportunity to purchase up to two tickets.