PHILADELPHIA — Neshoba Central Middle School Principal Cody Killen walked down the school’s quiet halls Wednesday morning before entering into Kristian Swearingen’s English class during the first day of school. Although he was wearing a mask, it was obvious that he was excited. 

“First of all, I’ve missed you all,” Killen said. “When we let out for spring break, never did I think that we would see you all at the end of the year, or starting the school year off like this. It is not because we want to, but it’s because we want to work hard to do everything that we can do to continue to have school on campus. That means so much to me.”

The Neshoba County School District was one of many schools to open their doors for a new school year this week.

 “This won’t last forever,” Killen said. “I’ll be honest, It’s going to last for a while, but we will get through this.” 

Earlier this week, Gov Tate Reeves issued an executive order to delay school start dates for grades 7-12 in some COVID hotspots. Districts in Bolivar, Coahoma, Forrest, George, Hinds, Panola, Sunflower and Washington counties cannot open for those grades until Aug. 17.

According to the Stephanie Peebles, the middle school’s nurse, the school has been strictly following the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines to protect the students and staff.

“Of course we have a lot of parents and students who are nervous, but we want to show the parents that we are here to protect their children, do the best we can, and we are going to love them up and welcome them back,” Peebles said. 

As of August 6, the CDC has reported 63,444 confirmed cases and 1,804 deaths in Mississippi. Neshoba County alone has 1,278 confirmed cases and 91 deaths. The county has the second highest number of deaths behind Hinds County, which has 116. 

Here are images from Neshoba Central Middle School’s first day of in-person class. 


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Eric J. Shelton was a 2018 corps member in Report for America, and joined the team as our first photojournalist. A native of Columbia, Miss., Eric earned his bachelor’s in photojournalism from the University of Southern Mississippi. He was a multimedia journalist for Abilene Reporter-News, chief photographer for the Hattiesburg American and photo editor for the Killeen Daily Herald before joining our team June 2018. He rejoined Mississippi Today as our health photojournalist in January 2022.