WINONA – The students of the Winona Montgomery Consolidated School District may only be required to wear masks to combat the COVID-19 pandemic another three or four weeks, Dr. Teresa Jackson, superintendent of education, reported to members of the school board.
“Dr. [Thomas] Dobbs [State Health Officer] said to give the masks another three to four weeks,” Jackson said.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, Jackson and the school board have followed the recommendations of the Mississippi State Department of Health and the Center for Disease Control. She told the board that the district will continue requiring masks until Dobbs advises it is safe for students and staff.
Jackson reported that the district had one teacher and one student currently out for quarantine, however, other school districts have experienced recent outbreaks of COVID-19. Last week, Yazoo County High School was forced to cancel its football game against Winona High School due to an outbreak.
“From my understanding, one student tested positive the previous Friday, and by the next Friday, there were 24 [students who tested positive],” she said.
Jackson provided the board with a letter from the Mississippi Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics urging districts to continue with mask requirements in all indoor school settings to curb the further transmission of the virus. The organization released the findings of a recent study that found that “after adjusting for potential confounders, the odds of a school-associated COVID-19 outbreak in schools without a mask requirement were 3.5 times higher than those in schools with an early mask requirement.”
Parent Brandie Britt, an outspoken opponent of the district’s mask requirement, came before the board again to present statistics from news reports about COVID-19-related deaths in children.
“Covid deaths in children were 498,” Britt said. “Drownings were 3,960 and car crashes were 3,434. Also, I have two other things that talk about how these masks are showing low levels of carbon monoxide, which I said during the last meeting. This is the last time I will be here. I’ve spoken to a lawyer.”
Britt also stated that she has “seen that plenty of these schools are getting paid to comply to make these kids wear a mask,” and she asked if the district was receiving compensation for requiring masks.
“That is ridiculous,” Jackson said.
According to a report in the Akron Beacon Journal newspaper, the U.S. Department of Education said there is no truth to districts receiving compensation for requiring mask use.
A spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Education stated in an email to the newspaper, "Schools are not receiving more money for implementing universal indoor masking. American Rescue Plan dollars are provided to the states and local districts and can be used in a variety of manners including expanding learning opportunities, addressing health and safety of students for the return to in-person learning, strengthening social, emotional, and mental health supports, and more."
In other school news, Dan Herod, former captain with the Winona Police Department, was sworn in Tuesday night as the school resource officer at Winona Elementary School.
Herod, a 1999 graduate of Winona High School, is a certified police officer with 21 years of experience in law enforcement, most of it acquired by serving Winona and Montgomery County.
“WMCSD is excited that Officer Dan Herod has joined our team and will be participating in a National Association of School Resource Officers (NASRO) Basic SRO class next week to become a certified SRO,” Jackson said. “We are committed to providing our officers with the best training and equipment possible so they can serve our students and staff to the highest standard.”
Herod will be joining Chief Mac Burrell, who has served as a school resource officer with Winona-Montgomery Consolidated School District since it created its own police department. Burrell serves as a school resource officer at Winona Secondary School.
“An SRO is a police officer with specialized training to enable him/her to work in the school environment to keep our schools safe, while being an informal mentor/counselor and a public safety educator for our children,” Burrell said.
• Jackson and board members discussed the district’s state test scores from last spring. While students at Winona-Montgomery Consolidated School District posted lower scores than in past years, the district’s scores were “within points of the state average,” Jackson said.
Statewide, student proficiency was down, with COVID-19 having a direct effect according to officials from the Mississippi Department of Education.
Jackson presented the board with the percentage of students who scored Level 1 (the lowest category) and Levels 4 and 5 (proficient and advanced categories).
“We want most students to score in [Level 5],” Jackson said. “And we want the percentage in [Level 1] to go down.”
“A lot of students end up in Level 3 which is passing, but we need to grow them,” she said. “Growth is what they want from grade to grade.”
• The board voted to accept a bid of $75,827 from Acy Mechanical in Winona to replace six five-ton heating and air conditioning units in the Winona Secondary School cafeteria.
• The board approved a Board/Superintendent Communications Plan.
• The board discussed the current compensation for substitute teachers in the district. The matter was tabled until further information can be gathered on the matter.