Joshua Brand, a student at Stone High School in Wiggins, Mississippi, celebrated his first day back on campus with a car parade. The 17-year-old senior decorated his truck with balloons and streamers. On his windshield, he proudly spray-painted his class year: 2022.
Teachers, families and friends lined the streets, cheering loudly for their incoming seniors.
“It was some normalcy after the previous COVID school year,” Joshua’s mom, April Brand, told TODAY Parents.
Four days later, Stone High School moved to a virtual model. They are expected to return on August 26, but April isn’t so sure Joshua will be leaving his bedroom any time soon. Coronavirus cases, fueled by the highly contagious delta variant, continue to climb in their district.
What happened at Stone High School is happening elsewhere, and students and parents are in despair about it. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage, especially among the unvaccinated, school districts in Florida, Kentucky, Indiana, Mississippi, and Georgia are sending students home after only a few days in the classroom.
Joshua is already struggling due to slow and spotty Wi-Fi in his rural area. On day one, he was ready to learn, but marked absent because he couldn’t log into his Google Meet session.
“We live in a low-income community where a lot of people can’t even afford internet at all. They’re working at fast food joints,” April explained. She added that many kids get free breakfast and lunch through a federally assisted meal program.
“The school is still providing food, but the parents are like, ‘I work all day. When am I supposed to go get it?’” April said. “It’s a terrible situation.”
Jessica Craig in Austin, Indiana, can relate to what the Brand family is going through. Her son Nowlin, an eighth grader at Austin Middle School, was in the building just one week before they went remote. The plan is for the children to return on Monday.
“The sad thing is, they haven’t mandated masks,” Craig told TODAY Parents. “Nowlin said he was one of the only kids wearing a mask because they’re not required.”
Craig said her 14-year-old was absolutely crushed when he learned they were going back to virtual learning.
“He absolutely hates it,” she said. “He’s been very stressed out, making sure he completes all his assignments properly. It’s so much easier when you can communicate face-to-face.”
“We were hoping for some normalcy getting back into things, but now it’s like we’re back where we started.”
Craig, a teacher who is on medical leave, is able to help Nowlin with his work — but many of his peers are home alone without any guidance.
“These kids just want their lives back,” she said. "We all want our lives back."