Corinth Elementary School students wearing face masks line up in the hallway Monday afternoon, awaiting instructions from their teacher.

Classes of grade-schoolers shifted their face masks into place and filed into line in the hallways of Corinth Elementary School, carefully following dots on the floor and keeping themselves properly spaced.

It was a scene repeated throughout the school day Monday as the Corinth School District embarked on a new school year amid the continuing threat of coronavirus.

Second-grade teacher Alyson Harvell, who is also a mother, understands the anxieties some parents may be feeling about sending their children to school.

“Some of them are very hesitant and kind of don’t know, but we’ve just had to ease their worries and ease their minds about it,” she said. “Knowing the things we’re doing to keep them safe, I’m just relaying that. For the most part, they’re just happy that their kids are getting some kind of normalcy back.”

Principal Brian Knippers was pleased with how things were going on day one and happy to see the smiling faces of students.

“I think teachers are very glad that they’re here, too,” he said. “There’s a lot of anxiety when you’re dealing with an unknown. But teachers are back in their mode again.”

Many students began the day on school buses with plastic shields between seats. Upon arrival at campus, they walked past thermal scanners for an instant, high-tech temperature check. Then, they got in line for a sack breakfast and headed to class. All meals, for now, will be taken in the classroom with a goal of returning to the cafeteria later in the year.

With the ongoing concerns about COVID-19, students have the option of returning to campus or continuing with distance learning. About 13 to 15 percent of students district-wide have chosen the virtual route as the new year begins.

“We’re going to let that be a flexible thing up until Labor Day,” said Knippers. “If a child decides to come back from virtual, we will welcome them. After that point, we will lock them into a nine-week decision one way or the other.”

If another shutdown order were to come, the district has everything on hand to send home with each student to immediately begin distance learning.

The school has always emphasized hand-washing and is now doing so even more.

“All of our rooms have sinks, so they have a wash station in the room and have soap there, and they also have hand sanitizer,” said the principal. “At the end of the day, we have a sanitizing solution after students leave that we’ll spray all of the surfaces in the room down with to clean it.”

Students get another temperature check later in the day. A whole class can simply walk by the scanner for a quick check as they head to the restroom.

Teachers are wearing face masks and, if working closely with a student, a face shield. Students are given a face mask if they do not have one that they want to wear, and Knippers and Harvell said the kids are being cooperative about wearing them.

“I was really concerned that it was going to be difficult,” said Harvell, “but, obviously, the parents have really talked to them about the importance of keeping it on and staying in their space. They’ve done a really good job.”

To help keep the elementary students stationary, things like the library and music are going to the classroom. Singing is not part of music class because of pandemic precautions, so music education under new teacher Ashton Brooks is shifting to rhythm and motion.

“She’s taken the time to make 1,200 shakers and she’s making other things that children can have in the classroom to do music,” said Knippers.

Once the pandemic finally passes, Knippers expects it will leave some changes behind in the daily life of a school.

“I could see us during flu season asking children and staff to wear masks,” he said. “And I think we will continue to do thermal scanning of students.”

With all the attention on COVID-19 and its impact on a new school year, the Corinth district’s early start date spurred some rare national media attention for the city. Superintendent Lee Childress and a couple of CHS students, seniors Frank Davis Jr. and Cayden Betts, were interviewed in a story broadcast on Monday evening’s NBC Nightly News.

Alcorn County schools return on Aug. 5.

Staff Writer

Jebb Johnston is a 1991 Alcorn Central High School graduate and a 1995 Ole Miss journalism graduate. His primary beats are city and county government.

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