Gov. Tate Reeves, the only official who can issue a statewide mandate that postpones school or forces virtual learning, finds himself in a tough political position as schools across the state are just days from resuming in-person instruction.
As coronavirus cases and hospitalizations are skyrocketing in Mississippi, many parents and teachers are rallying across the state and asking Reeves to postpone the start of school. They say already cash-strapped school districts can’t handle the demands of virus preparation and warn that students, teachers and staff will suffer.
Meanwhile, many parents are worried about how they’ll keep their jobs or handle childcare if their kids don’t start school on time. Parents and teachers alike express deep concern over students’ wellbeing if they miss school and in-person interaction in a rural state where many districts lack the ability to provide adequate distance learning.
The state’s 138 districts have been asked to decide for themselves when and how to reopen, and they face a Friday deadline to submit their plans to the state.
For now, Reeves is holding off on any statewide edicts about public school operations as most schools are set to return to the classroom the first full week of August.
“It has long been the view of Mississippians that we want local control of education,” Reeves said this week.
Though he has made clear he expects schools to reopen soon and to provide in-person classes, Reeves said he will review the districts’ plans carefully and decide if any statewide mandates for schools are required.
“It’s not something I want to do, and it’s not something I can tell you with certainty I will have to do,” Reeves said. “… Those of you who have watched me over the last 16 or 17 years will know that I am not scared to make a decision.”
No matter his decision, Reeves will face criticism.
Some advocates and educators have called on Reeves or the Mississippi Department of Education to provide more leadership on the issue. MDE says neither the department of State Board of Education has the authority to delay school reopening or mandate any closures. Reeves, who has broad emergency authority, said he wants to leave it to local school districts if possible.
Erica Jones, president of the Mississippi Association of Educators, said that while schools face an unprecedented challenge, “our state’s leaders are nowhere to be found.”