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Natchez-Adams School District looks at future plans amid virus outbreak

NATCHEZ — The COVID-19 pandemic could induce a technological revolution in the public education system as schools develop ways to provide distance-learning opportunities to their students, said Natchez-Adams School District officials.

In a Monday meeting of the Natchez COVID-19 Task Force, District Superintendent Fred Butcher spoke about the district’s plan for providing both education and meals to students if schools remain closed through the summer and perhaps the beginning of the next academic year.

Butcher said the district plans to continue doing its summer feeding program. Any child — student or not — between ages 1 and 18 could pick up meals between 10:30 and 11:30 a.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays at school and community sites.

Summer school is for a smaller segment of the student body and could be delivered virtually, Butcher said.

Butcher said the school district is a long way from providing education virtually to all students and would ideally be able to provide a Chrome Book for every student to use from home for both school work and test-taking.

However, many students live in areas of the county with poor internet access and most schools in the district don’t have the needed infrastructure to support enough bandwidth for all of their students to log into simultaneously, Butcher said.

“In most school systems, the technology situation is suffering very badly and in our situation our infrastructure is suffering very badly,” he said.

In response, Butcher said the district’s technology team is developing a three to five-year plan for updating the schools’ technological infrastructure that could cost approximately $1.5 million.

“We are working to hit the ground running so that whenever guidelines are put in place we won’t be building up from ground level but will be halfway up the road as it relates to what we can do and what we can’t do and what we need to do to improve our infrastructure. … We’re hoping that (MDE) Mississippi Department of Education will provide us with some way to provide Wi-Fi in every part of the community. There is a lot of work we have to do.”

If the pandemic overlaps with the next academic year, Butcher said hot spots could be set up in locations such as churches or public spaces and buses could transport students to take tests in those areas.

“We want to make a bad situation or a challenging situation beneficial to our students and our community,” Butcher said, adding once the Department of Education advises schools on how to proceed the following school year then the district may seek additional help from local, state or federal entities for the project.

“It’s going to be a revolution in education throughout the nation,” he said.