All sixth graders at Partnership Middle School in Starkville-Oktibbeha Consolidated School District will attend classes entirely online after two instructional staff members tested positive for COVID-19, district Public Information Officer Nicole Thomas confirmed to The Dispatch this morning.
Both the requirement for instructional staff to quarantine and the number of close contacts with them made in-person classes inadvisable, Thomas said. District officials have not yet decided whether sixth grade will return to in-person instruction before the end of the semester.
Eight more staff members and some students were in close contact with the two who tested positive, Thomas said, meaning 10 of the 34 sixth-grade teachers will be unable to return to campus for at least 10 days. Students that the district identifies as close contacts will have to quarantine for 14 days, and staff members can return to campus after 10 days if they do not have symptoms, she said.
Partnership Middle School — which houses grades 6 and 7 — had only one student and one staff member test positive for COVID-19 from the start of the school year on Aug. 24 until this past weekend, according to an email from the district. Seventh grade classes do not have to go entirely online, Thomas said.
“This abrupt announcement reminds us how quickly Covid can force us to adjust our school schedule,” the email states. “It also reminds us that we must be diligent with preventative measures while we are at school and while we are away from school. This includes wearing your mask, observing six feet of distance whenever possible, avoiding social gatherings, and washing your hands.”
Middle school students in entirely virtual learning environments will be able to pick up Chromebooks from the school this week as scheduled, the email states.
Students in SOCSD had the option at the beginning of the school year to choose between in-person and virtual learning. Grades 8-12 also had the option of a “hybrid” learning model, which combines in-person and online instruction, but the district got rid of the option in October after many students in hybrid learning were not keeping up with their peers and teachers were overburdened with three types of lesson plans, Superintendent Eddie Peasant said at the time.
As of October, about 70 percent of the district’s elementary school students and 55 to 60 percent of older students commute to and from campuses for traditional learning, an increase of about 10 percent for both since the start of the school year.
Tess Vrbin was previously a reporter for The Dispatch.
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