K-12 schools planning for full in-person instruction for the 2021-2022 school year. 

Schools in Mississippi were closed to in-person instruction on March 2020, and remained closed for the remainder of the 2019-2020 academic year. All counties in the state were allowed to start reopening schools by August 2020.

“This has been a very resilient year for children, for teachers, for leaders, for parents,” said Dr. Carey Wright, State Superintendent of Education for Mississippi. “If there’s one thing I can say about Mississippians it’s that we are incredibly resilient and I think everyone is kind of looking forward to coming back to school in person and getting the year started.”

Wright said returning to school for the 2021-2022 school year will still look different because of the ongoing coronavirus. Because of this, districts will need to adjust how their schools will run in order to protect the health of students and staff. Schools will be following guidance from the Mississippi Department of Education (MDE), the Mississippi State Department of Health (MSDH) and the CDC in order to secure the well-being of all as the pandemic continues.

“The Mississippi Department of Education (MDE) remains committed to providing guidance and support to help districts ensure all students have access to in-person learning,” said Dr. Wright.

Governor Tate Reeves told Y’all Politics in May that he does not anticipate a state mask mandate for K-12 schools when students return in August 2022. Those orders have since expired. However, local districts may require additional measures at their own discretion.

As such, local school districts must update their plans at least every six months through September 30, 2023. Districts must also seek public input on their plans and take that input into account when revising their plans.

“I think you’re going to see everybody in-person. I think that districts are going to be given the option of virtual learning,” Dr. Wright said. “We’ve got a policy out for public comment and we’re anxious to see what the public has to say around that. We’re anxious for kids to be getting back to the 330 minutes of instruction and straight 180 days of school.”

The Mississippi State Board of Education (SBE) is currently seeking public comment on two 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.

These policies will allow districts to provide school-wide or district-wide virtual learning days in the event of unforeseen circumstances such as weather emergencies or an epidemic prevailing in the district. In addition, districts that have virtual options for 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.

“We wanted to be very clear about what we expected of teachers and of children. The virtual learning policy that’s out there does specify that teaching needs to be 330 minutes a day and we’re expecting that on the daily basis,” said Dr. Wright.

The State Superintendent discussed how Mississippi, for the third year in a row, is ranked as one of the top five states in the nation as “most improved” in education, according to a report published in Education Week.

In regards to the upcoming legislative session, Dr. Wright said the Department of Education would like to see a few items of note taken up by lawmakers. She said MDE is looking to continue to ask for funds for the renovation of the School Student Information System.

“We’re asking for a lot more money for early childhood, we know that [the department] got a lot this year, but there’s a lot more children that need to be served,” Wright noted. “We’re looking for a little more money under the Literacy-Based Promotion Act to hire more literacy coaches and also additional monies for professional development and asking for more monies for our juvenile detention centers which has still not been funded at the level that they need to be funded.”

Dr. Wright said while there are many requests, it is not for the Department of Education, but rather funds that will go directly to the local districts and their students across the state.

You can watch the full Y’all Politics interview with Mississippi State Superintendent Carey Wright below.