Board votes against changing Columbus School District’s calendar despite superintendent’s concern for COVID-19 learning loss

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COLUMBUS, Miss. (WCBI) – After spending months getting feedback from teachers, parents and stakeholders, the Board of Trustees voted down the proposed change to the school calendar for the Columbus Municipal School District on Friday.

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For the past four months, CMSD Superintendent Dr. Cherie Labat says she’s tried to emphasize the importance of doing something different to help students makeup for lost time.

“We’re in a critical moment right now on with our students being in the hybrid schedule and virtual schedule academically,” she said. “Our students are seeing some deficiency, not only from a social and emotional standpoint but academically.”

That has been the motivation for Dr. Labat as she pushed for a change to the school calendar.

The plan would’ve taken four weeks from the summer break and spread them throughout the school year.

“I am concerned about us being hybrid and virtual in those 12 weeks this summer,” Dr. Labat said. “Considering some of the learning loss we’ve experienced with the COVID-19.”

But Friday, the Board of Trustees voted 3-2 against the plan after a 5-hour meeting where they heard from 40-50 people in-person and over 100 more online.

“As the board listened to all the teachers and staff and all the parents and others who came out to share those opinions and give their insights, it really gave us a lot more material as far as questions,” said CMSD Board President Jason Spears.

Dr. Labat still believes a large portion of teachers and community members are still in favor of the change.

“Before COVID-19, we’ve been a D district for 11 years, and we have to think out of the box in order to make a difference for our students,” she said, emphasizing the fact that Columbus is the only school district in the Golden Triangle with such a low rating.

Spears says the board believes that getting back to some form of normalcy, like getting more students back in the classroom, should precede any major change.

“You want to have a high participation rate of students and staff, and with all the things kind of going on in the world right now, we were afraid there might be a possibility of not getting that and just basically kind of diminish some of the returns we would expect to see with the change,” he said.

However, Spears says it could still be an option in the future.

“I still think you know really strong support for making the change,” he said. “It was just a little bit more of, ‘Hey, let’s just really make sure that we have all the Is dotted and Ts crossed before we make that next step.'”

But Dr. Labat believes time is of the essence.

“[There are complaints] about me raising the level of expectations too quickly and too strongly as a superintendent,” she said. “Well, that’s what I was hired to do and I will continue to do so.”

Spears said the board could revisit adopting the intersession-based schedule for the 2022-23 school year. The school district is currently set to start the 2021-22 school year in early August.