A bus passes debris on Saturday, March 25, 2023 in Silver City, Miss. Emergency officials in Mississippi say several people have been killed by tornadoes that tore through the state on Friday night, destroying buildings and knocking out power as severe weather produced hail the size of golf balls moved through several southern states. (AP Photo/Michael Goldberg)
Interim State Superintendent Kent says impacted school districts are facing both physical and emotional damage.
As of April 14th, all of the school districts that were affected by the March 24th storms and tornadoes in Mississippi reopened and students, teachers, and faculty returned to the classroom. Among the school districts impacted by the storms were Amory County School District, Carroll County School District, Humphreys County School District, Monroe County School District, New Albany Public Schools, South Delta School District and Winona-Montgomery Consolidated District.
The South Delta School District (SDSD), based in Rolling Fork, Mississippi, was the last school district to resume classes. SDSD was the most severely damaged. The ongoing cleanup and rebuilding efforts there were recently highlighted on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” Mississippi native Robin Roberts broadcasted a portion of the popular national morning show from Rolling Fork.
This week, two local Superintendents spoke with the Magnolia Tribune about the transition back to the classroom.
Brian Tyler Jones, Superintendent of the Amory Municipal School District, said they started school on Tuesday, April 11th without buses running because of the debris that remained on the roadways.
“86% of our students were on campuses,” Jones stated. “A true testament that our students and parents were ready for us to begin school. We started running all but three buses the next week. Starting this past Monday, all buses were back on the road.”
Dr. Chad O’Brian, Superintendent of the Monroe County School District, said that while Amory city schools were hit “pretty hard,” his district was very fortunate that none of the campuses in Monroe Country had damage. O’Brian said their struggle, amidst staff and students’ homes being impacted, has been staying in the routine of school.
“But none of our campuses for the Monroe County School District were hit,” O’Brian explained. “We did have several staff members and students that sustained damage, but there was no loss of life so we were very fortunate there. The main thing has just been trying to stay in the routine as much as possible. We were fortunate to get schools back up and power restored pretty much to all areas within a week and so we just feel fortunate.”
During a State Board of Education (SBE) meeting on April 18th, Interim State Superintendent of Education Mike Kent provided an update on all of the tornado affected school districts. Kent said when you talk about tornado affected districts, you have to talk about two different things: (1) physical and structural damage and (2) emotional damage.
“The part that we can quantify, of course, is the physical part it,” Kent stated. “We continue to work with school districts that are impacted. Those districts officially include Amory, Carroll County, Humphreys County, Monroe County, New Albany, South Delta, and Winona-Montgomery.”
Kent said there is a wide disparity between the impact on the school districts.
“For instance, Humphreys County is mentioned here. The tornadoes occurred over the weekend, they were back in school on Monday morning. Dr. Watkins moved quickly to get them back in school,” Kent said. “The Amory School District has done remarkable work. They were back in school within the 10-day allowed window and they had 85% attendance on the first day back without running buses. The reason they didn’t run buses is because the city and the county had been unable to clear the roads, so the school district is leading the charge there in that county as far as recovery is concerned.”
The Interim Superintendent of Education said that SDSD is a different story.
“You’ve seen the media reports there, the devastation is pretty extensive. Almost complete devastation and it is a different story, but we have worked very very closely with those folks,” Kent said.
He explained that when SDSD went back to school on April 14th, they had about 25% attendance on that Friday. MDE said that the attendance figure Kent mentions about SDSD fluctuates daily.
“We have reports that attendance has increased the more days the district has been open, and some displaced students have enrolled in other districts,” said Jean Cooke, Chief of Communication for MDE.