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FAQ: COVID-19 and Mississippi schools

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We asked readers to tell us what questions they have about how Mississippi’s COVID-19 vaccination progress will affect the return to school.

Here are some of the common questions Mississippians have, with answers provided by Kate Royals, our lead education reporter, and Molly Minta, our higher education reporter.

Still have questions? We’ll be updating this FAQ as more questions arise. Just ask. You may also check out our COVID-19 Vaccine FAQ and our COVID-19 Vaccine Guide for more information.

Has the vaccine been required for students and staff to attend school?

No. The vaccine has not been made mandatory for students or staff returning to Mississippi schools. The Mississippi Department of Health has strongly recommended all eligible students and staff be vaccinated before returning to school.

Are masks mandatory for students and staff?

No, masks have not been made mandatory for students and staff returning to Mississippi schools. Gov. Tate Reeves, the only individual capable of issuing such a statewide order, has repeatedly said he will not be issuing any executive orders mandating that masks be worn in schools. The Mississippi Department of Health has strongly recommended that all individuals, regardless of vaccination status, wear masks in indoor settings.

Will students or staff need to show proof of vaccine?

No, although employers (in this case schools) may legally ask their employees if they are vaccinated.

Are there any plans to require vaccines if the vaccines get full approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)?

The only school district considering such a requirement that Mississippi Today is aware of is the Natchez-Adams School District. The Mississippi Department of Education has said it is unaware of any other school districts planning to require the COVID-19 vaccine.

Since students are not required to be vaccinated or wear masks, what, if anything, will be done to protect teachers and students from possible COVID exposure?

The Mississippi Department of Health’s recommendations include mask-wearing for all individuals regardless of vaccination status, maintaining three feet of physical distancing between individuals at all times and quarantining or routine screening testing of unvaccinated individuals who are exposed to COVID-19. Several schools have used federal funds to purchase additional personal protective and cleaning and sanitation equipment, in addition to improving ventilation.

Will the State Department of Education create and enforce a unified standard for all districts?

No. “The Mississippi Department of Health leads on these issues and has been providing the COVID-19 information and guidance to districts,” a spokesperson for the Mississippi Department of Education said.

Will schools be allowed to administer vaccinations to students at the schools?

Yes, with parental consent. The Mississippi Department of Health also has an Adopt-a-School program that links schools with COVID-19 vaccine providers to make on-site vaccinations for individuals 12 years old and above available. Part of the program involves working with schools to send out consent forms and other required forms home to parents, which will help the school estimate how many staff are needed and how long the clinic should last.

Have the state’s public universities required students be vaccinated?

No. The Institutions of Higher Learning Board of Trustees has not made the vaccine mandatory for students. However, the University of Mississippi Medical Center will require, with limited exceptions, students to get fully vaccinated once the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines receive full authorization from the FDA. The Mississippi Department of Health has strongly recommended all students be vaccinated before returning to school.

Have the community colleges required that all students and employees be vaccinated for COVID-19?

No. Community colleges have not made the vaccine mandatory for students and employees.

Can universities and schools establish their own masking and distancing policies, even if the state government does not ?

Yes.

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