We asked readers to tell us what questions they have about how Mississippi’s COVID-19 vaccination progress will affect the return to school.

Here are some of the common questions Mississippians have, with answers provided by Kate Royals, our lead education reporter, and Molly Minta, our higher education reporter.

Still have questions? We’ll be updating this FAQ as more questions arise. Just ask. You may also check out our COVID-19 Vaccine FAQ and our COVID-19 Vaccine Guide for more information.

View our COVID-19 in schools data, including how many students, teachers and staff tested positive for the virus as well as how many people are in quarantine in a given week.

Last updated: August 24, 2o21

Has the vaccine been required for students and staff to attend school?

No. The vaccine has not been made mandatory for students or staff returning to Mississippi schools. The Mississippi Department of Health has strongly recommended all eligible students and staff be vaccinated before returning to school.

Are masks mandatory for students and staff?

No, masks have not been made mandatory for students and staff returning to Mississippi schools. Gov. Tate Reeves, the only individual capable of issuing such a statewide order, has repeatedly said he will not be issuing any executive orders mandating that masks be worn in schools. The Mississippi Department of Health has strongly recommended that all individuals, regardless of vaccination status, wear masks in indoor settings.

View a chart of which Mississippi school districts are requiring masks.

Will students or staff need to show proof of vaccine?

No, although employers (in this case schools) may legally ask their employees if they are vaccinated.

Are there any plans to require vaccines if the vaccines get full approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)?

The only school district considering such a requirement that Mississippi Today is aware of is the Natchez-Adams School District. The Mississippi Department of Education has said it is unaware of any other school districts planning to require the COVID-19 vaccine.

Since students are not required to be vaccinated or wear masks, what, if anything, will be done to protect teachers and students from possible COVID exposure?

The Mississippi Department of Health’s recommendations include mask-wearing for all individuals regardless of vaccination status, maintaining three feet of physical distancing between individuals at all times and quarantining or routine screening testing of unvaccinated individuals who are exposed to COVID-19. Several schools have used federal funds to purchase additional personal protective and cleaning and sanitation equipment, in addition to improving ventilation.

Schools are also now allowed to implement hybrid schedules — or a combination of virtual learning and in-person school days — after the State Board of Education approved a temporary policy revision on August 19, 2021.

The board voted unanimously to allow school districts to utilize this schedule until Oct. 31 of this year. 

Will the State Department of Education create and enforce a unified standard for all districts?

No. “The Mississippi Department of Health leads on these issues and has been providing the COVID-19 information and guidance to districts,” a spokesperson for the Mississippi Department of Education said.

Will schools be allowed to administer vaccinations to students at the schools?

Yes, with parental consent. The Mississippi Department of Health also has an Adopt-a-School program that links schools with COVID-19 vaccine providers to make on-site vaccinations for individuals 12 years old and above available. Part of the program involves working with schools to send out consent forms and other required forms home to parents, which will help the school estimate how many staff are needed and how long the clinic should last.

Have the state’s public universities required students be vaccinated?

No. The Institutions of Higher Learning Board of Trustees has not made the vaccine mandatory for students. The University of Mississippi Medical Center announced that it will require, with limited exceptions, employees and students to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by November. 

However, the Mississippi Department of Health has released updated guidelines for mitigating the spread of the coronavirus in colleges and universities. 

As the “primary health prevention strategy” to stem transmission of the virus, the new guidelines recommends all eligible students, faculty and staff receive the COVID-19 vaccine. It also urges colleges and universities to direct everyone on campus, regardless of vaccination status, to mask-up in all indoor facilities and in crowded outdoor settings. 

Students are recommended to continue social distancing in classrooms, and all students, faculty and staff should stay home if they are sick with any infectious illness.

READ MORE: Fact-check: Mississippi universities say they can’t require the COVID vaccine. IHL says they can.

Have the community colleges required that all students and employees be vaccinated for COVID-19?

No. Community colleges have not made the vaccine mandatory for students and employees.

Can universities and schools establish their own masking and distancing policies, even if the state government does not?


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Kate Royals is a Jackson native and returned to Mississippi Today as the lead education reporter after serving in the same capacity from 2016 to 2018. Prior to that, she was a reporter for the Clarion-Ledger covering education and state government. She won awards for her investigative work, including stories about the state’s campaign finance laws and prison system. She was a news producer at MassLive in Springfield, Mass., after graduating from Louisiana State University’s Manship School of Mass Communications with a master’s degree in communications.

Molly Minta covers higher education for Mississippi Today. She works in partnership with Open Campus, a nonprofit news organization focused on investigating higher education. Originally from Melbourne Beach, Florida, Molly reported on public housing and prosecutors in her home state and worked as a fact-checker at The Nation before joining Mississippi Today. Her story on Mississippi's only class on critical race theory was a finalist for the Education Writers Association National Awards for Education Reporting in 2023 in the feature reporting category.