Rural Mississippi school districts preparing for virtual learning

Rural Mississippi school districts preparing for virtual learning

QUITMAN COUNTY, Miss. (WMC) - In rural Mississippi, some school districts are deciding to start the school year all virtual even as advancements in broadband connectivity lag behind a lot of the country.

When a task force got together within the Quitman County School District to come up with a back to school plan, there were traditional and hybrid plans on the table. But soon the landscape of the pandemic in the rural Mississippi county became clear.

“Over the weeks we have been designated by the governor as a hot spot and we see cases develop on a daily basis,” Quitman County School District Superintendent Dr. Evelyn Jossell said.

Quitman County will start the school year on August 10 with all virtual learning. Nearby North Panola School District and Tunica County School District will start virtually as well.

“We do acknowledge that our basic challenge is connectivity and providing devices for all students,” Dr. Jossell said.

The district will be providing computers to all students and hotspots if needed. However, if broadband connectivity is low, Jossell said the hotspot is only so good. So, all lectures will be recorded and students have access to paper packets.

“We have a four alarm fire in the state of Mississippi when it comes to connectivity,” Mississippi Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley said.

The FCC said standard broadband speed has to be 25 megabits per second download and 3 mbps upload speed. According to the website 89 percent of people have access to that in Panola County, 79 percent in Tunica County and 66 percent in Quitman County.

Commissioner Presley said it’s a standard that isn’t good enough.

“It will be like saying okay you need transportation so here’s a horse,” Presley said.

Presley said Mississippi is often ranked near the bottom of states with the best internet connectivity. There has been movement to change that over the last year.

“In 2019, we had a good move forward with the broadband enabling act and just yesterday we announced $66 million in grant funds to go to the most disconnected communities,” Presley said.

But Presley knows infrastructure for the new broadband will take time. That’s something school districts have already accounted for.

“Rural education is a different story anyway you look at it,” Dr. Jossell said.

Quitman County plans to switch to a hybrid schedule in October if the health landscape allows it.

The North Panola and Tunica County school districts never returned our request for interviews for this story.

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