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Third Greene County school shuts down as COVID-19 surge continues

Greene Co. High School and Leakesville Jr. High send staff and students home and shifts to distance learning until Aug. 30

From Staff and AP Reports

Officials with the Greene County School District made the decision Wednesday morning to send students and staff at Leakesville Jr. High School home for the remainder of August as the number of active COVID-19 cases and related quarantines skyrocketed in recent days. The move came roughly 24 hours after school officials made the same decision for Greene County High School, leaving the school district with 3-of-5 main campuses shuttered due to the rapid spread of coronavirus.

It was not clear at press time how many students and staff at either school had tested positive for the virus at the school, but the number was significant enough to force the closures. Supt. of Education Charles L. Breland made the announcements on social media Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday afternoon shortly after students and staff at the schools were notified of the decision.

“Leakesville Jr. High has had an increase in COVID related numbers today and has met the threshold for school closure,” Breland announced in a Facebook post Wednesday afternoon. “Therefore, the school building will be closed beginning tomorrow and stay closed through Friday, August 27th. It will reopen on Monday, August 30th.”

“Students will transition to virtual learning. Parents of students at Leakesville Jr. High will receive a robocall later today with more information concerning virtual learning for the time period the school is closed.”

Breland’s message about GCHS on Tuesday was similar.

Leakesville Elmentary School was shut down in similar fashion last Wednesday (Aug. 11) and will remain closed through the end of this week. The high school and LES (which is set to reopen on Monday, Aug. 23) are the schools in the county school district with the largest student populations.

“McLain School and Sand Hill schools will continue to have face to face instruction as COVID related numbers on those campuses are very low,” Breland added in his Wednesday message.

The decision to close the two schools temporarily comes as school districts across the state are being slammed by the recent surge in cases, which health officials say is being driven by the delta variant of the coronavirus.

A top Mississippi health official said Tuesday that about 20,000 Mississippi students are currently quarantined for COVID-19 exposure in the state — 4.5 percent of the public school population, according to the state’s latest enrollment figures. The data comes from reports made by 800 schools to the Mississippi State Department of Health (MSDH) last week, Mississippi State Epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers said.

“These disruptions … are going to continue for a while,” Byers told members of the Mississippi Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics during a conference call.

The school outbreaks have resulted in many school officials rethinking their policies after beginning the academic year without restrictions such as mask mandates. Around 600 schools have now implemented universal masking for indoor settings, Byers said.

Greene County schools began the school year without requiring masks, but returned to a mask mandate on buses and indoors where social distancing is not possible last week after case numbers began to rise rapidly. Neighboring George County followed a similar path, with similar results. All schools in George County are now under mask mandates and two schools have been closed, including George County High School, which shifted to virtual learning protocols on Monday.

Perry County Schools and the Richton School District initiated mask protocols prior to the beginning of the school year. Officials there tell the Herald that while they do have some positive cases among students and staff and have had to send some home on quarantine, the numbers are better than many neighboring communities.

“Considering the circumstances, I feel like we are doing ok,” Richton School District Supt. of Education Clay Anglin said.

Mississippi State Epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers said there are still many settings where restrictions that could keep kids and teachers safer are not being implemented consistently. To prevent transmission in schools, there needs to be a mix of masking, vaccinations and testing being done on a regular basis, Byers said.

“What we’re finding is in a lot of schools are picking and choosing through these recommendations in a cafeteria-style approach,” Byers said. “The intent of this is really it needs to be all of these layers in order to prevent transmission.”

The Mississippi Department of Health reported 3,323 new confirmed cases of the virus on Tuesday. More than 392,300 people have tested positive for the virus since the start of the pandemic in Mississippi, a state of around 3 million people. At least 7,880 have died since the pandemic began.

Editor’s Note:
Leah Willingham, a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative, contributed to this report.

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