Mississippi Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann speaks with Golden Triangle Early College High School students during a discussion via Zoom, an online video conferencing app. GTECHS is located on EMCC’s Mayhew campus.

April 6, 2020

Mississippi Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann spoke with Golden Triangle Early College High School students Monday morning during an online classroom session in which much of the discussion centered on impacts the novel coronavirus has had on the state.

Public schools in Mississippi are closed because of the coronavirus pandemic and GTECHS students wanted to know if they will reopen before the school year ends in May.

Hosemann said his understanding is that it will be up to Gov. Tate Reeves to determine when it is safe to reopen schools.

“If he (Reeves) does not open the schools by about the first week in May, there are only a couple of weeks there they had scheduled for exams and I don’t know that there is really enough time for students to come back,” Hosemann said. “Once he releases his time frame, it will come back to the school boards to make a decision on whether to have you come back.”

Hosemann said in discussions with school board members across the state, there has been a lot of concern over improving school grades impacted by school closures and whether or not to conduct graduation ceremonies at the end of the school year.

Hosemann’s comments were made during an online classroom discussion with GTECHS teacher Brandy Burnett’s biology and anatomy and physiology classes. GTECHS was among the first high schools in the state to transition to online learning.

“We knew at the end of that week of spring break we were going to need to be off campus for some additional time,” GTECHS Principal Jill Savely said. “We really didn’t know how long. So, we just went ahead and made a plan to go online with instruction on the Tuesday after spring break.”

Burnett credited the school’s students with rising to meet the challenge of a sudden shift to online learning.

“I think I speak for the whole staff and my administration when I say we are lucky to have the group of kids we have,” Burnett said. “They have really tried so very hard and we couldn’t be more proud of them.”

Among other things, some classes are now taught via Zoom, an online conferencing system, while class assignments and backup material are posted to Canvas, an online learning management system where discussion boards allow for student-teacher interaction. Students are able to measure their progress through USATestPrep.

EMCC President Dr. Scott Alsobrooks, who also took part in the Monday discussion, said he would like to share GTECHS’ successful transition to online learning with other K-12 schools in the state.

“I want others to learn from what you are doing because you are setting a great example of how to get back in school during a crisis when things are difficult,” Alsobrook said. “All of you are doing an excellent job.”

Savely said the social impact of transitioning from in-class instruction to online learning has not been easy for the students.

“They miss their friends and that face-to-face time with their teachers,” Savely said. “Our teachers have done a phenomenal job of communicating with our students so they know our teachers are still there and that they care.”

During the Monday discussion, GTECHS student Noah Garrett questioned if social distancing guidelines infringed upon people’s constitutional rights for, among other things, freedom of assembly.

“How far are we willing to go to keep people safe?” Garrett asked.

Hosemann said some states, such as Texas, Florida and Rhode Island, are limiting entry by residents from other states where there are high concentrations of COVID-19 infections. He said he does not favor implementing similar measures in Mississippi.

“In times of tragedy like we have here, there are things that have to be done on an immediacy basis, but if we start drifting away from the constitution, I don’t know that we drift back again,” Hosemann said. “So, you have to be very, very careful.”

When asked, Hosemann said the date for the November election is set in the constitution and won’t be changed. He said it is possible though that the legislature could pass a provision that would allow more of the state’s residents to cast absentee ballots by mail.

He said this crisis will one day pass and that he is optimistic about the state’s prospects.

“You have got a future here,” Hosemann told the students. “It is pretty much a blank sheet of paper. It will be what you write on it. This is not going to deter us from having a bright future in Mississippi.”

GTECHS opened its doors in August 2015 with 61 freshmen, who advanced a grade each year as new students were added to fill lower grades. The first group of students graduated last May. Today, GTECHS has about 220 students in grades 9-12.

GTECHS is Mississippi’s first early college high school in which students take both high school and college classes. Today, there are six early college high schools in the state.