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City schools to begin semester online

The Booneville School District is going online to start the fall semester.

Classes will be conducted entirely online for at least the first four weeks of the new school year when it begins August 5. The district will remain on an online schedule through at least the Labor Day holiday and a decision about the remainder of the semester will be made the week of August 24.

Superintendent Dr. Todd English said the decision to begin the year online only is one of the toughest he’s had to make and he understands it’s not what many parents may want but it is being made to ensure the safety of students and teachers and the proper operation of the district. Under CDC and state health department guidelines for quarantining those who have been exposed to the COVID-19 virus, the district has numerous teachers and staff members who would not be able to work during the first weeks of the semester making it almost impossible to provide a fully operational on-campus program for all grades.

English said the school year will begin on August 5 with resources in place to support every student in their education, including those who may not have Internet access at home and those in special education programs.

“We’re putting a lot of work and effort into this first four weeks of school to make sure every student has a great school year,” he said.

Students will interact with their teachers and classes through the district’s CANVAS learning software, teacher web pages, and other methods to provide both pre-recorded lessons and live interactive learning. English said it’s important for students and parents to understand that expectations and standards will remain high and students will have to meet the same requirements learning online that they would in the classroom.

He hopes to be able to return to on-campus learning after Labor Day and believes on-campus is ultimately the best place for students to learn in order to gain the benefits of social interaction important to growing up. However, he understands the current situation makes that difficult to achieve.

If on-campus classes are offered later in the semester, parents would still have the option to choose online-only learning for their children if they remain uncomfortable with sending them to class.

The district will be providing meal services during the online-only period at the start of the school year and is also putting a plan in place to provide a way for students without home Internet to conduct their studies.

Appointments will be made available for a limited number of students to come to campus each day to use the school district’s Internet service in a safe, socially distanced environment. School buses will transport those students using this service. Buses will also be transporting special education students who need one-on-one, in-person services. Details on these services will be announced soon. Anyone who is on campus for any reason or on a bus will be required to wear a face mask at all times, noted English.

He encourages parents to be sure the district has their most up to date phone numbers, email addresses, and other contact information. All updates and details for parents will be sent out by telephone messages, posted on social media and posted on the district’s website.

The superintendent said he’s extremely proud of the way the district’s teachers, staff and administrators have come together to meet the need of students during these difficult times and praised all those involved for the hard work and long hours they’ve put in to make sure every student has an opportunity for success.

He also thanked parents for their continued support and understanding.

“We’re all in this together and we all want to keep our children safe and for them to be successful,” he said.

English said he also wants every parent to know the district’s staff remains accessible. Anyone who has questions or needs assistance is encouraged to email or call their school or the district office.

Local VFW post receives national recognition

VFW Post #4877 has been working hard to gain awards in district, state, and national programs.

The post began holding monthly meetings again, after shutting down due to COVID-19 restrictions for two months. Meetings are held on the first Thursday of the month at 6 p.m., at the Post located at 100 Loveless Road.

The Post was honored for the second time as an All-American and All-State Post. The Post is one of only 7 Post in the State to be named All-American. There are 77 Post in the State. They are fourth in the Nation in their division. Tolar explained, ”to be considered All American we have to participate in programs that the VFW supports.” Some of the projects include the Veterans Day parade, The 9/11 Ceremony, the Fall Festival and the Back to School Bash organized by the Booneville Main Street Association. He said, “We will, also be continuing the Veterans Day Parade and Stew Day, and placing flags on veterans graves.” Along with participating in VFW programs the Post was increased to 131 percent of membership.

The Post worked to raise funds and sponsored two Girl Scouts that won first and second place in the State of Mississippi Girl Scout of the Year.

They also recognized Robin Pharr, Career Counselor at Thrasher High School as an outstanding supporter of our VFW Programs.

This past year the District was honored by being named as an All-American District there are 10 Districts in the State. The Booneville Post is number five in the Nation for their division.

Tolar was elected as the District Commander for the second consecutive year. The Commander said, “ It is an elected position. It puts me over Booneville, Fulton, Tupelo, Belmont, Ripley, Corinth, and Walnut. I make sure the post are participating in programs recognized by the VFW and community service.” We are only one of only four districts in the State to earn this honor.

This past year, our Post sponsored Sandy Thompson and Bobby Moore from Thrasher and they were awarded the Post, District and State of Mississippi VFW Teachers of the Year. The Post also sponsored Sam Hisaw from Booneville High School who won the Post and District Teacher of the Year.

Tolar said, “ I’m pretty proud of what we did this past year.” The Post began a new year in June and have already sponsored a Blood Drive with plans to sponsor a Blood Drive every quarter in the coming year.

We will be sponsoring all the VFW programs again this year, the Teacher of the Year, Patriots Pen, Voice of Democracy, Boy/Girl Scout of the Year, Patriotic Arts Contest, Children’s Home, Buddy Poppy Drive, Membership Drive and a new program this year is the Fisher House.

One new fundraiser they plan to begin soon called “I’ve Been Flagged”. He explained, “Participants can pay $30.00 to have flags and a sign placed in some ones yard or business in support of veterans.”

He said, “We will, also be continuing the Veterans Day Parade, Stew Day, and Placing Flags on Veterans Graves.”

This year VFW Post #4877 celebrates its 75th Anniversary and plans are underway for a celebration on December 4th, with an open house.

Power association awarded broadband grant

The Prentiss County Electric Power Association will receive over $4.5 million in grant funding to continue its work in boosting broadband access in the county.

The Mississippi Public Utilities Staff announced Tuesday the awarding of $65 million in 50/50 matching grant money to 15 electric cooperatives that will deploy fiber to provide high-speed broadband internet service to unserved and underserved areas of rural Mississippi. The $130 million total will be used to build fiber lines to provide high-speed internet in rural areas to help alleviate problems caused by the Corona Virus Pandemic.

The $65 million became available after the State Legislature passed Senate Bill 3046 – The Mississippi Electric Cooperatives Broadband COVID-19 Act – a few weeks ago. The money became available after Mississippi was awarded federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding.

Prentiss County Electric Power (PCEPA) applied for $5 million and was awarded $4,521,522.02. The grant money will be matched by PCEPA borrowed funds to provide high-speed internet access to many of the unserved (without TV cable or 25/3 Mbps internet service) census blocks as publicly listed on the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) maps. Unserved communities like; Dry Creek, Oak Hill, Blackland, Osborn Creek, Pratt, Friendship, Hopewell, Meadow Creek, Zion’s Rest, Hobo Station, New Site, Bay Springs, New Hope, Blythe’s Chapel, Hills Chapel, Altitude, New Candler, Piney Grove, and others. All PCEPA members will have high-speed internet available before the project is completed.

“This CARES Act money is a great help for our high-speed internet plan of serving all of our electric members. I really appreciate our State leadership and our local Legislators in seeing the need and pushing to get this bill passed,” said General Manager, Ronny Rowland.

“We would like to thank Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann, Speaker of the House Philip Gunn, Sen. Joel Carter, chairman of the Senate Energy Committee and State Rep. Scott Bounds, chairman of the House Public Utilities Committee for their leadership and to thank each Mississippi Legislator that voted to use this portion of the CARES grant money to combat unforeseen changes in people’s lives because of the Corona Virus Pandemic. I also want to thank Public Utilities Staff Executive Director Sally Doty and her entire staff for their hard work expediting the grant process,” said Michael Callahan, executive vice president and CEO of the Electric Cooperatives of Mississippi.

Callahan said when the fiber work funded by these grants begins, there will be broadband internet access available to 10,000 homes by this December. Once these grant projects are finished, there will be broadband service available to more than 35,000 homes in rural Mississippi.

Masks required in county buildings

Masks will now be required in all county buildings.

The Prentiss County Board of Supervisors voted last week to require the protective face coverings for all those entering the county courthouse, justice center, annex building or chancery building.

Chancery Clerk David “Bubba” Pounds said the move is an effort to comply with a recent order by the Mississippi Supreme Court which requires masks to be worn by everyone in all courtrooms across the state. Pounds said because of the layout of the county’s buildings the board decided the only way to ensure compliance with the order was simply to require their use inside all buildings.

A bailiff will be stationed at the door of the courthouse and justice center to monitor traffic in and out and will have some masks available for those who may not have one with them.

Courthouse offices remain open to the public, though residents are encouraged to avoid congregating in the offices and to do as much business as possible by phone, email or regular mail. Pounds said the door to the chancery building will remain locked, but those who need to do business that must be done in person may knock on the door or call to be let in.

The courthouse was closed last Thursday afternoon for cleaning and sanitizing after an employee in one of the county offices tested positive for COVID-19. It reopened Friday morning.

Unemployment rate falls in county

Unemployment in Prentiss County continued a downward trend last month.

The county’s unemployment rate fell to 8 percent for the month of June, down from 8.3 percent in May, according to the latest figures released by the Mississippi Department of Employment Security. The rate remains significantly higher than a year ago when it stood at 5.8 percent in June of 2019.

Mississippi’s overall statewide unemployment rate also fell in June to 9.7 percent, down from 10.4 percent in May. A year ago the figure stood at 6.4 percent.

Prentiss County posted the fourth lowest rate among immediately surrounding counties. Alcorn County had the area’s lowest rate at 7 percent, followed by Tishomingo County at 7.2 percent and Itawamba County at 7.9 percent. Prentiss and Tippah counties were both next, tied at 8 percent. Union County followed at 8.2 percent. Lee County had the area’s highest rate at 10.3 percent.

Prentiss County has the 12th lowest rate among the state’s 82 counties. Smith County had the lowest rate in the state at 6.1 percent. Jefferson County had the state’s highest figure at 21.3 percent.