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NASD school buses will be used to deliver meals to students

NATCHEZ — Beginning this week, yellow buses designed to transport students to and from schools will act as food trucks for the majority of Natchez Adams School District students attending virtual only classes in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Under the district’s current transportation plan, only some bus drivers will be carrying students to schools on Mondays and Wednesdays and the rest will be carrying school lunches to students’ houses five days a week on their normal bus routes, school officials said during a meeting with bus drivers on Monday.

The bus drivers will run lunch routes between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. daily. Either a parent or student will be required to meet the bus outside to pick up their lunches.

NASD Public Relations Coordinator Tony Fields said students should log onto the district’s website at www.natchezschools.org or the NASD Facebook page to fill out the school lunch order forms through Sept. 18.

With approximately 80% of students working entirely from home, the school district must continue to provide meals and educational services to students, said Fred Butcher, NASD superintendent.

Meanwhile, Durham School Services placed an addendum in their contract that states the company must be paid for full services regardless of how many days buses are in operation each week.

The state auditor’s office would not allow the district to pay for services that are not being received, therefore the school board’s attorney Bruce Kuehnle had to negotiate a new contract with Durham.

Butcher said the contract could be approved at the school board’s next regularly scheduled meeting on Tuesday. A temporary agreement with Durham allowed buses to continue to pick up students for the first week of school, he said.

“Our attorney and Durham’s attorney have been negotiating to try and find a middle ground to please both the state auditor’s office along with the school board so that we can continue to communicate with our parents and students and make sure we’re providing everything we need to have a smooth school-year,” Butcher said.

Durham School Services’ General Manager Jeremy Sutherland said having bus drivers handle meal delivery allows the drivers to continue working and Durham to meet their four hour paid workday guarantee without losing drivers.

“Until someone tells me to send people home, I plan to bring all of you to work,” Sutherland said to the bus drivers during Monday’s meeting.

In addition to delivering school meals, Deputy Superintendent Zandra McDonald said the drivers would also handle delivery of printed work materials to approximately 50 families in the district who do not have internet access at home.

The district has ordered Chromebooks for every student and mobile hotspot devices for students who do not have internet so that every student should soon have access to virtual learning tools, Butcher said.

Students who opt-in for either virtual or hybrid classes cannot switch to another learning format until after the first nine weeks of school, he said.

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