Less than a week after a Lauderdale County elementary school opened its doors for the new school year, district officials closed the school after a COVID-19 outbreak occurred.
The outbreak occurred at Southeast Elementary School in the Lauderdale County School District, forcing officials to shut down school buildings and transition to distance learning until Sept. 2, according to a letter from the superintendent.
This is the first known Mississippi school to close due to a COVID-19 outbreak after reopening earlier this month.
“Due to the safety of all, and following our Return to Learn closure protocol, we have decided to provide continuity of learning via distance learning,” John-Mark Cain, superintendent, wrote in an Aug. 17 letter to parents and guardians. “Students will not report to school and will move to a virtual setting immediately.”
It is unclear how the outbreak happened and how many students, teachers or staff were affected. Cain and the school district office did not return a request for comment.
The Mississippi Department of Education left the decision of how and when to open up to each individual school district, with only three options to do so: virtual, in-person or a mixture of the two. The state’s 138 districts were required to submit their plans to the state by July 31.
Earlier this month, Gov. Tate Reeves assessed the reopening plans of all districts and announced he would let most of them commence as planned. Reeves ruled that schools in eight counties that were deemed hotspots — representing just 7% of the state’s total student population — should delay two weeks until Aug. 17.
In doing so, Reeves bucked the advice of education advocates and the state’s top medical professionals, who’d publicly urged leaders to delay the start of school to at least early September. Minutes after Reeves announced he would allow schools to reopen on time, State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs, sitting next to Reeves in a live press conference, said of reopening schools: “I think it’s nuts.”
“It’s impossible to imagine that we are not going to pay the price for cramming kids into schools right now,” Dobbs said earlier this month. “There’s just no plausible scenario where it’s just not going to be bad.”
Schools in the Lauderdale County School District returned to classrooms on Aug. 10. Students showed up in-person on certain days depending on the first letter of their last names, according to the district’s Return to Learn plan. For example, students with the last names starting with A-K participated in traditional learning on Monday and Tuesday with virtual learning on Wednesdays.
“Some schools will have to close temporarily. It’s inevitable. Just be prepared for that,” Dobbs said in a Wednesday afternoon press conference.