Gov. Reeves bucks expert advice, delays school for just 7% of Mississippi students

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Eric J. Shelton/Mississippi Today

Gov. Tate Reeves speaks to media during a press conference Friday, April 24, 2020, at the State of Mississippi Woolfolk Building in Jackson, Miss. Gov. Reeves signed a new executive order establishing a statewide Safer at Home order to protect public health and move towards reopening the economy.

Bucking the advice of the state’s top public health experts, Gov. Tate Reeves announced  Tuesday he would delay opening just a handful of schools until Aug. 17 — affecting less than 7% of the state’s student population, a Mississippi Today analysis shows.

On Tuesday Reeves issued an executive order for schools in Bolivar, Coahoma, Forrest, George, Hinds, Panola, Sunflower and Washington counties. Affected districts cannot have in-person learning until Aug. 17. Other school districts can open traditionally now, and many did or are planning to this week.

The criteria for counties chosen for the executive order include having seen 200 new cases within the last 14 days or having had an average of 500 cases per 100,000 residents over that time. It’s the same criteria he used to determine his county-by-county mask mandate, which until Tuesday included 37 counties. The governor declared a statewide mask mandate at the same time he announced the executive order.

“We have approached this in a manner in which we believe that we are doing what is in the best interest of our state, and we believe to be in the best interest of our schoolchildren throughout Mississippi,” Reeves said.

But by issuing an executive order for a specific group of students in just a few counties, less than 7 percent of the public school population in Mississippi is affected, based on enrollment data from the 2019-2020 school year. Many districts in these counties are already planning on a virtual opening or later start date.

Two of the state’s top health experts had publicly urged Reeves earlier this week to postpone reopening all schools until September.

UMMC Communications

State health officer Thomas Dobbs at a press conference at UMMC.

“As far as starting traditional school in the near future, I think it’s nuts,” State Health Officer Thomas Dobbs said Tuesday, sitting next to Reeves at a press conference. “We can’t have unmitigated risk as far as the schools go.”

Though, he added: “But do understand that especially for our youngest kids and maybe kids with learning disabilities there’s a lot more urgency of getting them in the classroom.”

The districts affected by the mandate are:

  • Cleveland Municipal School District
  • West Bolivar School District
  • North Bolivar School District
  • Coahoma County School District
  • Clarksdale Municipal School district
  • Coahoma Early College High School
  • Forrest County Agricultural High School
  • Forrest County School District
  • Hattiesburg Public School District
  • Petal School District
  • George County School District
  • Clinton Public School District
  • Hinds County School District
  • Jackson Public School District
  • North Panola School District
  • South Panola School District
  • Sunflower County School District
  • Greenville Public School District
  • Hollandale Public School District
  • Leland Public School District
  • Western Line School District