Recent editorials from Mississippi newspapers:
The Greenwood Commonwealth on the enrollment drop in Mississippi's public schools:
Mississippi’s Department of Education announced Monday that enrollment in the state’s public schools has dropped by 5% this year.
That’s troubling, but not surprising, as the pandemic and the mixed-bag approach that the public schools have used in dealing with it have caused thousands of families to seek other alternatives for their children’s education — or, in probably some cases, a total abandonment of it.
MDE said the 23,000-student drop can largely be attributed to the following:
• More than 4,300 fewer students in kindergarten. Mississippi’s mandatory school attendance law does not kick in until first grade, so it’s not surprising that parents have decided there is no point in sending their child to school before they have to, particularly in those school districts that have been doing most or all of their classes remotely. Distance learning may work for older students, but it’s a particularly poor alternative for young children, especially those who may be going to school for the first time.
• A nearly 7,000-student increase in home schooling. The virtual learning that began last spring when the coronavirus first arrived was quasi-home schooling already, with much of the responsibility for teaching children being transferred to the parents. It may have given some families the confidence to handle home schooling, particularly if any of the parents lost their jobs or were working from home themselves.
• A continuation of the pre-pandemic downward trend in enrollment, probably tied to Mississippi’s stagnant population. It should be pointed out, though, that this year’s drop is more than four times what the state had averaged over the previous three years. MDE’s summation seems reasonably on point, but it also left some questions unanswered. Among them:
• How did enrollment compare among those school districts that started back in the fall with in-person instruction and those that didn’t? One would suspect that the drops were larger where in- person instruction was abandoned, as in the Greenwood Leflore Consolidated School District. That school district reported an enrollment drop of nearly 12%, more than twice the state average. But nearby Carroll County, which tried in-person instruction for much of the semester until back-to- back outbreaks caused it to eventually send all children home, saw a drop (9.5%) that was nearly as large as Greenwood Leflore’s. It would be helpful to know which is more responsible for the enrollment decline, fear of catching the virus at school or frustration with virtual learning from home.
• How many students did the public schools lose to the private schools? The MDE report did not quantify this. In general, private schools have been more willing to go with in-person instruction and continue with sports and other extracurriculars. Anecdotally these seem to have prompted a higher than normal number of transfers from public to private schools. Does the hard data back that perception up?
• How many students are enrolled in name only? One problem with virtual learning is that some students may be technically registered at their school, but they aren’t logging in or doing the work.
The schools have been dealt a terribly difficult situation by the pandemic. They know it’s safest to keep kids at home, but they also know that learning works best if students are in a physical classroom with their teachers and peers. There seems to be no way to satisfactorily reconcile those opposing concerns. This year’s enrollment numbers are further evidence of the ongoing dilemma.
The Daily Journal on Mississippi's plan to distribute a COVID-19 vaccine:
Over the last month, we have followed news of various COVID-19 vaccines in development and how soon they could become available upon emergency FDA approval.
In Mississippi, officials anticipate we could receive the vaccine under development by Pfizer as soon as mid-December, and the Mississippi State Department of Health is beginning to lay out plans for how the vaccine will be distributed.
As reported today by the Daily Journal’s Caleb Bedillion, both the vaccine by Pfizer and Moderna were more than 90% effective in the first round of early trials, and both companies are preparing to immediately distribute once federal approval is in hand.
MSDH has drafted a plan for how the vaccine will be distributed, which calls for health care workers, pharmacists, first responders and the National Guard to be the first recipients, with longterm care residents and staff and other health care facilities a secondary part of the first phase.
After taking care of educators and a few other professionals, people with pre-existing conditions and adults over the age of 65 would be next, and the general public would be part of the final phase.
Chief Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs held several press conferences last week to take questions on the vaccines, the shrinking number of ICU beds available in the state, and to further educate the public on what we need to be doing right now to combat the virus. We appreciate this work by Dr. Dobbs and State Epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers, as they’ve worked tirelessly from the beginning of this virus.
The well-founded possibility that we could begin seeing a vaccine before the end of the year gives us much hope. It is also important to take this time to educate yourself on the vaccine. It’s imperative that this is taken seriously and we listen to the advice of medical professionals.
There is another message emphasized by Dr. Dobbs that should be heeded: We are so close to the finish line. Now is not the time for apathy about mitigation measures. We must remain steadfast and save the lives that can be saved as we approach the hope of future in which a sustainable solution to this pandemic exists.
The Vicksburg Post on Tennessee Titans player Malcolm Butler's donations to organizations in Mississippi:
In August 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. to give his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech.
The words of that speech, and the manner in which King delivered the message, changed the world and shaped a new future for this country. “I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character,” King said in one of the more memorable sections of that speech.
But while there is still plenty of work left to do on the divisions in our society — especially when it comes to race — there is something that has happened in recent weeks that on the surface might seem trivial but speaks volumes.
Last week, Vicksburg native and current Tennessee Titan’s player Malcolm Butler donated thousands of dollars to three local organizations to provide gift cards for groceries to needy families in our community. This was in addition to the mountain of contributions and good works Butler has provided to Vicksburg and Warren County and in the communities he has been blessed to call home and play football.
Earlier this year, at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Butler donated $10,000 each to the United Way of Central Mississippi and Meharry Medical College, which funded personal protective equipment supplies and 600 grab-and-go meals for first responders.
Last year he purchased 25 turkeys for several retirement homes in Vicksburg, and each summer since 2015 he has hosted a free youth football camp in his hometown. Those recent contributions, combined with his resume of other charitable contributions, landed Butler a tremendously prestigious honor when he was named the NFL Players Association’s Community MVP for Week 11 of the 2020 season.
The honor was for his recent charity work in Vicksburg, Nashville, and at his college alma mater West Alabama. The Community MVPs receive a $10,000 donation to their foundation or charity of choice from the NFLPA. The union will also set up a crowdfunding campaign where supporters can pledge donations to the player’s cause based on their on-the- eld performances during the season.
The $10,000 donation and crowdfunding campaign for Butler will benefit the United Way of West Central Mississippi, with which he has partnered on a number of charitable endeavors in and around Vicksburg.
Butler has had an amazing career, which has now extended to his seventh NFL season and third with the Titans. He broke into the league as an undrafted free agent with the New England Patriots in 2014 and helped them win two Super Bowls and reach a third.
His last-minute interception in Super Bowl XLIX sealed a 28-24 victory over the Seattle Seahawks. But that is what Butler does and is a means to an end. His play and impact on the field, in the end, is irrelevant to the impact he has had on the lives of others.
Butler has proven that he is far more than a football player. He is a hero not just to our community, but to many others. In Butler’s case, it is important that we change a few of the words in King’s historic speech; we look to a day when people will not be judged by what they do or how much money they make, but by the content of their character.