Friday, May 1, 2020   
President Mark Keenum: Mississippi State was 'well prepared' for crisis
Mississippi State's president, Dr. Mark Keenum, anticipates and hopes for a large freshman class in the fall. "Our applications and new student numbers were looking really good going into this calendar year," Keenum said. "I'm hoping to have a good enrollment here in the fall." Keenum also noted that the university feels comfortable with their current financial situation, even amidst the COVID-19 breakout. "We are probably as well prepared financially to deal with a crisis, and I'll put us up against any school for that matter, across the country," Keenum said. "We have managed our accounts, our funding, and so forth."
MSU's May 1 commencement to be broadcast statewide and online, Fraiser to be honored with public service degree
Mississippi State's May 1 commencement exercises will be broadcast statewide via MSTV and available for online viewing. The Friday graduation ceremony begins at 2 p.m. CDT with livestreaming available at During commencement, MSU President Mark E. Keenum will confer degrees and address the new graduates. Additionally, the Honorable John J. Fraiser Jr. will receive the Doctor of Public Service honorary degree. Graduates will have additional options to participate in traditional commencement exercises on campus in December, provided the university has received clearance at that time from health professionals and government leaders. Keenum also plans to meet personally with spring 2020 graduates in the future to congratulate these students for their achievements.
MSU-Meridian graduates ready for virtual commencement
As Clover Eakes was nearing the end of her college career this semester, she was looking forward to saying goodbye to her teachers and walking across the stage during graduation. That all changed when college campuses were closed in March during the COVID-19 pandemic. Eakes and other MSU-Meridian students will instead take part in a virtual commencement. Ceremonies are set for 2 p.m. Friday at the Starkville campus and will be streamed online and on MSTV. MSU President Mark E. Keenum will confer degrees and address the new graduates, who will have the opportunity to take part in December's exercises. "I feel like MSU still wants to honor us," said Eakes, an elementary education major. "I feel grateful they want to honor us in some type of way, even though it's virtual." Even though the ceremony will be online, it still represents years of hard work, Eakes said. "I'm still getting a degree," she said. "It may not be the way we thought or I wanted it, but I'm still getting it."
Starkville officials not concerned about Cornerstone bond payments
Starkville is well-positioned to pay for the multimillion-dollar Cornerstone Park project, city officials say, despite an expected sales tax revenue shortfall this year due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. "We are early enough in the development of it that if we had to make changes, we could, but I think we had a sound financial plan going into it," Ward 2 Alderman Sandra Sistrunk said. "Even with this setback, (which) is going to be more than a few months, it's still a sound financial plan. I may worry about a lot of things, but this one doesn't have me so worried." Golden Triangle Development LINK CEO Joe Max Higgins told the Columbus Rotary Club at its Tuesday meeting that funding the Cornerstone Park recreation complex off Highway 25, estimated at between $18 million and $22 million, is "kind of a problem" at the moment. Sistrunk, the board of aldermen's budget chairperson, and Mayor Lynn Spruill disagree. "We've pushed those payments out three years so we will have an opportunity to hopefully make up the sales tax (revenue) we've lost and put us in a better position to pay off those bonds over that duration and we'll be back from the loss," Spruill said.
Area circuit courts having terms with no trials
Oktibbeha County Circuit Court looks very different this term. Bailiffs are stationed at courthouse entrances taking the temperatures of everyone going in and out of the building. Court staff, defendants and other visitors are all wearing masks, and anyone who may have come into contact with COVID-19 coronavirus is having to call the circuit clerk's office before entering the building. Perhaps the biggest difference, though, is there are no trials scheduled, thanks to a state supreme court order last month mandating clerks not call jurors to the courthouse before May 18. "In other words, no cases will go to trial this term," Oktibbeha County Circuit Clerk Tony Rook said. "That is a significant distinction between this term and ordinary terms of court." Attorneys have shifted their attention this term to pre-trial hearings and plea agreements, especially for those charged with minor felonies that tend to result in little time in prison or none at all.
SHS, Columbus High plan virtual graduations; LCSD schools 'still holding out' hope for big ceremony
Under normal circumstances, Starkville High School seniors would have picked up their graduation gowns and mortarboards in the school gym during their lunch periods on Wednesday. Instead, a line of cars circled slowly through the parking lot behind the school for an hour as masked sales representatives from Herff Jones handed packages to students and parents through their car windows. Columbus High School students picked up their own memorabilia on Friday. Both schools have had to reimagine their graduation ceremonies due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. SHS Principal Sean McDonnall said plans to adapt began in March as soon as in-person classes were canceled and he had to meet with senior class leadership via teleconference. Both SHS and CHS will broadcast their pre-filmed graduation ceremonies on May 22 and 23, respectively, the days they were supposed to hold the ceremony in person at the Humphrey Coliseum on Mississippi State University's campus.
Mississippi unemployment claims fall for second consecutive week
After skyrocketing for a month, the number of Mississippians filing for unemployment dropped for the second consecutive week. The numbers, however, are still in the tens of thousands. Last week, 35,845 filed jobless claims were filed, down 1,070 from the previous week's revised total. To date, 91,745 are listed as unemployed in the state, a decline of 1,257 from the previous week. Nationwide, another 3,839,000 people filed for unemployment, bringing the total to more than 30.3 million in the six weeks since the COVID-19 pandemic began. That is more people than live in the New York and Chicago metropolitan areas combined, and it's by far the worst string of layoffs on record. It adds up to more than one in six American workers. Some outside reviews suggest that the number of job losses is likely even higher than is captured in the weekly unemployment claims. A poll by two academic economists, Alexander Bick and Adam Blandin, found that the U.S. economy may have lost 34 million jobs since mid-March, when the coronavirus shutdowns began.
Bonita Lakes Mall reopens Friday; Mississippi reports 349 new COVID-19 cases
Bonita Lakes Mall will reopen Friday, May 1, beginning at 11 a.m., according to a mall news release issued Thursday. The news comes on a day when the Mississippi State Department of Health confirmed 15 new cases of COVID-19 in Lauderdale County, for a total of 349 and one additional death, for a total of 20. The mall has been closed since March 31, when Gov. Tate Reeves issued a shelter-in-place order for Lauderdale County. Shoppers may enter through the front entrance only from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday. All customers must wear a mask at all times and practice social distancing, the release said. The stores reopening include Kirkland's, Rainbow, Giorgio's, Hibbett Sports, City Gear, Reeds Jewelers, Sports Additions, Finish Line, New Square and Shoe Dept. Encore. The food court and parts of the common area will not be available and mall occupancy will be limited to 65 customers. Groups are limited to five people.
Coast shrimpers cling to legacy through the industry's choppy waters
Danny Ross, an Ocean Springs shrimper, has been on a boat for as long as he could walk. He remembers driving the family vessel as a kid, having to climb onto the dashboard to see over the steering wheel. "Two spokes to the left," his dad would direct. He remembers, back on land, getting bad grades in art class because he would only draw one thing. "I'd draw a pretty good boat too," he said. "Me and my brothers were always on the boat. The rigging, the pipes -- that was our jungle gym. And our swimming pool? The boat would be shrimping and we'd be diving off the bow, catching ropes on the outrivers." Ross, 55, recently tied up his boat after a disappointing season that saw fresh water kill 56 percent of Mississippi's shrimp. The plummeting price of shrimp has made it difficult for Ross to find crew members, and instead he's gone to work on another captain's boat. After following five generations of fishermen into the business, he's worried about the direction the industry is headed in.
There is no food shortage, no need to hoard, Mississippi governor says
There is no food shortage in Mississippi, the state's top officials said Thursday. "I want to be clear. Very, very clear: We are not at immediate risk of any shortage," Gov. Tate Reeves said. "You do not need to hoard. You do not need to empty the shelves of your local grocery store. That will do more harm than good. You will get what you need." Mississippi farmers, ranchers, truckers and those working at meat processing plants are making sure the food supply chain is intact, Reeves said. Andy Gipson, the state's commissioner of agriculture and commerce, said there is no shortage of food in the country. "If anything, we have more food than we know what to do with right now. The restaurants shut down and the schools shut down. That eliminated about half of the food distribution," Gipson said. If grocery stores are running low on meat or other products, that's a temporary problem, Gipson said.
Mississippi leaders clash over spending virus relief money
The Mississippi Legislature will restart its session Friday as top lawmakers and Gov. Tate Reeves argue over who has power to spend more than a billion dollars the federal government is sending the state to respond to the coronavirus pandemic. Republicans who lead the House and Senate say the Mississippi Constitution gives spending authority to the Legislature. But Reeves, a Republican, says a state law enacted decades ago gives the governor some spending power during emergencies. The conflict could play out in the next several days as legislators return to the Capitol to resume their session that's been on hold since mid-March because of the pandemic. "We can't allow politics and bureaucracy to cost Mississippians the money that they so badly need," Reeves said during a news conference Thursday. Mississippi is receiving $1.25 billion from a federal relief package already approved by Congress, with some of it designated for the Health Department. If more federal money is approved in the future, that could also be affected by the fight over spending power.
Lawmakers, governor set for clash over who controls $1.25B in federal coronavirus money
Mississippi lawmakers will reconvene Friday -- weeks earlier than planned -- in order to take control of $1.25 billion in federal coronavirus stimulus funding from Gov. Tate Reeves. Reeves maintains he has the authority to spend the CARES Act funds, as a governor does in other state emergencies. His office has been developing plans in recent weeks on how to oversee spending of the federal money, which has already been deposited into a state account. Former Gov. Haley Barbour, who oversaw Hurricane Katrina disaster relief, agreed governors have long had authority over emergency spending under state law. Legislative leaders made it clear this week they want to gain control over the federal coronavirus money. Leaders of the House and Senate issued a letter Wednesday instructing the Department of Finance and Administration to "hold the entire amount" of relief funds until the lawmakers determine how to distribute them.
Legislature heads back to session amid debate over who has authority to distribute CARES Act funds
Hours before the Mississippi Legislature was abruptly called into session, local legislators who were being interviewed by The Dispatch said they were pretty sure they would be called back early. They just didn't know how early. They anticipated the Legislature would reconvene Monday as part of a showdown between lawmakers and Gov. Tate Reeves loomed on the horizon. By noon, the timetable had changed, if not the mission: Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann and House Speaker Phillip Gunn called their respective chambers into session at 1 p.m. today in an effort to assert the Legislature's authority to administer $1.25 billion in federal funds -- Mississippi's share of $340 billion in CARES Act funding earmarked to compensate state's for expenses related to COVID-19. A legislative staffer who asked not to be identified said House and Senate attorneys and staff worked well into Thursday evening crafting a bill that clarified any doubt about the Legislature's sole authority over spending. Rep. Rob Roberson (R-Starkville) said he doesn't view the Legislature's position as a power play. "I think (Reeves) is attempting to do what he feels is the right thing," Roberson said. "On the flip side, my position is that there is no reason to even have a Legislature if we're going to let one person make these decisions. We're in this together. I don't think what we're doing is trying to exclude the governor, but I don't want the reverse, either."
Legislative Democrats have rare bargaining power in CARES Act spending battle
A tense struggle for power between Republican legislative leaders and the Republican governor could come down to an unlikely group of elected officials: Mississippi's legislative Democrats. Democrats have for years been relegated to effectively no political power in the Capitol as Republicans swept statewide elections last year and shored up a three-fifths supermajority in both the House and the Senate. But as Republican Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann and Republican House Speaker Philip Gunn try to wrangle the sole spending authority of $1.2 billion in federal coronavirus relief funds from Republican Gov. Tate Reeves, Democrats will be the deciding votes between whether the legislative leaders or the governor keep that authority. "There is an old political cliche: 'Politics makes for strange bedfellows,'" said Rep. John Hines, D-Greenville. "This one of those situations where there's a stranger sleeping in my bed. (Republicans) are going to need allies."
Hosemann, Gunn instruct state's fiscal officer not to spend COVID-19 federal funds until Legislature acts
Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann and Speaker Philip Gunn, intent on stripping authority from the governor to appropriate $1.25 billion in federal coronavirus relief funds, have sent a letter to the state's acting fiscal officer instructing her not to spend the money being sent to the state. The letter, dated Wednesday, was sent to Liz Welch, who Gov. Tate Reeves appointed as the interim director of the Department of Finance and Administration, which is the agency that routinely doles out state funds at the direction of the Legislature. The letter was also sent to state Treasurer David McRae. The unusual step of the Legislature's two presiding officers sending the letter occurred after Reeves said over a period of weeks he had sole authority to disburse $1.25 billion that the U.S. Congress sent to the state to deal with costs and other issues associated with the coronavirus. The money is part of the massive $2 trillion Coronavirus, Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act passed in late March.
Mississippi high court won't halt evictions amid coronavirus outbreak
Mississippi Supreme Court says no to halting evictions and garnishments during the coronavirus pandemic. In a ruling Thursday, the state high court said it was beyond the court's authority to halt eviction and garnishment judicial proceedings. Mississippi Center for Justice filed the motions. Attorney Will Bedwell said the motion was filed in an attempt to stop an expected and unprecedented rise in Mississippians becoming homeless through evictions after suffering job loss and lost income due to the pandemic. MCJ's motion was joined by Mississippi Legal Services Corporation and North Mississippi Rural Legal Services, as well as supported by the Mississippi State Conference NAACP, Mississippi Rising Coalition, the Mississippi Poor People's Campaign, East Biloxi Community Collaborative, the Mississippi Coalition for Citizens with Disabilities, and Grace House.
Mississippi Coast casinos could reopen before Memorial Day amid COVID-19, Gov. Tate Reeves says
Gov. Tate Reeves said he's confident that casinos in Mississippi will be open by Memorial Day. Speaking at his Thursday afternoon press conference, Reeves said the casinos won't be the same as when they closed March 16, since social distancing will be required and changes will need to be made to table games. "I think they know that. They're comfortable with that," he said of the casino operators. Reeves said he had a reopening and operations plan from the casino industry and the Mississippi Gaming Commission. "We have been in contact with both," he said. They still have work to do on making it safe for people to play card games and handle chips, he said.
Mississippi Legislative Black Caucus Hosts Meeting on Education
Mississippi students are finishing the school year from home because of the coronavirus pandemic. Superintendents from the Greenwood-Leflore, Vicksburg-Warren, Moss Point and other school districts say distance learning would be easier if more students had reliable internet access. A Thursday night virtual call hosted by the Mississippi Legislative Black Caucus focused on how those issues affect minority students. According to Pew Research Center, black students are more likely not to have internet access in their homes. State Senator and caucus chair Angela Turner-Ford said this is a problem when classes have to be online. "Districts can purchase or provide devices," Turner-Ford said. "It was more of an issue of connectivity. Especially for those students who may live in more rural areas. The issue is more than about distributing or issuing a device, it's making sure that child can access the internet once they're in the home." Legislators return to the Capitol today for the first time since mid-March when the session was suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic. Turner-Ford said she wants to make sure the voices of underserved communities are heard as legislative decisions are made.
Mississippi coronavirus: Disease spreads among chicken plant workers
Mississippi poultry workers say they went weeks without protective measures for coronavirus and saw other employees come to work with symptoms in facilities where social distancing is not possible. Now they are getting sick and spreading the disease to their families. Poultry is a huge industry in Mississippi, made possible by low-wage workers who are often African American, Latino or undocumented, spending long shifts on their feet, cutting, killing and hanging chickens that end up on the dinner tables of millions of American households. President Donald Trump on Tuesday declared meat industries a "critical infrastructure," mandating the plants remain open. While health officials say coronavirus cases could be plateauing across Mississippi, infections are surging in two central Mississippi counties where many of the plants are located. Scott and Leake counties now have the highest per capita rates of coronavirus in Mississippi -- and most of those infected are black or Latino.
Democrats propose protections for farm workers
Domestic farm workers, many of them undocumented immigrants, would be covered by a bill of rights for essential workers that advocates and a group of House Democrats want included in any future economic relief bill that moves through Congress. Rep. Ro Khanna said farm workers are contributing to agriculture, which the Homeland Security Department has designated as a critical industry. Like others required to work amid the COVID-19 pandemic, agricultural laborers' risk for exposure to the virus that causes the disease should be addressed, the California Democrat said. The National Council of Agricultural Employers will be among the groups keeping an eye on the Democratic proposal. Michael Marsh, the organization's president and CEO, said the council has not taken a position on the proposal but believes his members are making changes to their operations to meet the voluntary guidelines issued by the CDC to control the spread of the virus. Marsh noted that the framework has no Republican supporters, which he said will make it "tough to include in any package."
'This never happened': Joe Biden denies sexual assault allegation
Former Vice President Joe Biden on Friday emphatically denied a decades-old accusation of sexual assault leveled by a former staffer in his Senate office, breaking more than a month of silence on the allegation. "No. It is not true. I'm saying unequivocally it never, never happened and it didn't," Biden told "Morning Joe" host Mika Brzezinski of the accusations made by former staffer Tara Reade. Reade has told multiple media outlets, including POLITICO, that that Biden assaulted her in a Senate hallway in 1993 when she worked for the then-senator. In his interview Friday, though he categorically denied Reade's accusation and asserted that a search of the National Archives would turn up no complaint of any kind, he was evasive at times and refused to commit to such a search of his archives at the University of Delaware. The former vice president and presumptive 2020 Democratic presidential nominee also struggled to differentiate his denial from his insistence during the confirmation hearings of then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh that women accusing powerful men of misconduct should be believed.
After a day of armed protesters and a GOP lawsuit threat, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer extends state of emergency
Confronted with armed protesters at the state capitol and a lawsuit threat from GOP lawmakers over her executive orders, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) was unmoved, deciding to extend Michigan's state-of-emergency declaration against the legislature's wishes and without its approval. Whitmer's executive actions on Thursday, which extend various business closures and the emergency declaration to May 28, capped a remarkable day at the Michigan State Capitol, complete with gun-toting protesters and impassioned speeches on the House floor by Republican lawmakers trying to curtail Whitmer's power. Outside the House chamber, the protesters crammed into the hallway and stairwell, periodically chanting, "Lock her up!" and "Let us in!" Their chanting could be heard faintly from the House floor -- and ultimately, the Republicans gave the protesters what they wanted: a refusal to extend Whitmer's emergency declaration. In Michigan, legislative approval is required to extend emergency declarations beyond 28 days; Whitmer's expired Thursday night, with no such approval to renew. On Friday morning, President Trump suggested that Whitmer “make a deal” to slowly reopen the state.
Inside the Early Days of China's Coronavirus Coverup
Over the past several weeks, as the number of new cases in China has tapered off and lockdowns have lifted, China has been positioning itself as a global leader in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic. It has vigorously promoted the narrative that its unprecedented quarantine measures bought time for the world -- and that much of the world then botched and squandered that head start. Now, the story goes, China has again come to the rescue as it shares its expertise, experience, and equipment. To be sure, China did eventually take extraordinary and painful steps to quell its domestic outbreak. But it has also taken extreme measures to curate the information that has emerged from ground zero of the pandemic. Nowhere has China been more aggressive in its war for control of the coronavirus narrative than it has been at home. A vivid and human picture of that information war emerges if you examine all the stories and posts that have been wiped off of the Chinese internet since the outbreak began.
MUW creates task-force to develop plan for student return
he MUW campus renewal task-force will implement a few changes for students returning this fall. Classroom rosters will shrink and student activities may have to wait. Empty sidewalks and bare parking lots. MUW's campus has been this way since coronavirus pandemic first began. Now they're ready to invite students back. President Nora Miller said the board has been developing the best way students can be on campus and stay protected. "This task-force will be meeting over the next few weeks to determine what measures would move us into a certain phase. When is it going to be safe for people to come back to campus to work? How can we accommodate people who may be in higher risk and are concerned about being exposed to anything," said Miller. Miller explained her board will analyze scenarios to help fit student needs and safety during the semester. There will be two phases regarding faculty, staff and students return. Faculty and staff members will return during the summer months. The date for students will be announced at a later date.
$55.1 Million in COVID-19 Assistance for HBCUs and Minority-Serving Institutions in Mississippi
U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.), a member of the Senate Labor, Health and Human Services (HHS), and Education Appropriations Subcommittee, Thursday reported that Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) or minority serving institutions in Mississippi have been allocated $55.1 million from the Higher Education Emergency Relief (HEER) Fund authorized in the CARES Act, which was enacted in late March. This funding is in addition to the $149.0 million announced on April 9 for Mississippi postsecondary educational institutions to support colleges, universities and other schools during the COVID-19 emergency.
DeVos Makes $1.4 Billion Available for Minority-Serving Institutions
The U.S. Department of Education announced it is making available nearly $1.4 billion Congress set aside in the CARES Act for minority-serving institutions, including historically black colleges and tribal colleges.The department also released a spreadsheet detailing out how much institutions will receive, with North Carolina A & T State University receiving the most, $18 million. The money, under the terms of the $2.2 trillion stimulus bill approved by Congress and signed by President Trump last month, can be used to pay for technology as classes move online during the pandemic, as well as other costs from campus closures, such as lost revenue associated with the transition to distance education, grants to cover the costs of attendance for eligible students and faculty and staff training. Additionally, funds may be used to cover operational costs, such as lost revenue, reimbursements for prior expenses and payroll. Minority-serving institutions, however, are seeking an additional $1.5 billion to cover the financial hit they're taking during the pandemic.
Classes could be online in the fall. Will freshmen still want to come to Ole Miss?
Higher education is in limbo because of the coronavirus pandemic, but according to a campus-wide email that Chancellor Glenn Boyce sent on April 29, the university will make a decision concerning fall classes by June 30. "The university is developing contingency plans for a range of scenarios for the Fall 2020 semester," Provost Noel Wilkin said. "Additionally, we are gathering information to plan for each scenario, including options that would involve bringing people back to campus with safety precautions in place." Members of the incoming class of 2024 at Ole Miss are weighing their options as well. Some are considering unenrolling from the university if classes remain online through the fall semester to either enroll in a different school or take a gap year before beginning college. "If fall classes end up being online, I would unenroll from UM for the semester, if that's possible, and attend a local community college," Madison Loker, an incoming criminal justice major from Maryland, said. "It would be irresponsible of me to pay out-of-state tuition when I could take the same classes at a community college for a fraction of the price."
Cathead donates $75,000 to Southern Foodways Alliance
The Southern Foodways Alliance at the University of Mississippi has received $75,000 from the founders of Mississippi-based Cathead Distillery, whose efforts during the COVID-19 crisis are making statewide impact. The gift from Cathead owners Austin Evans and Richard Patrick will support the writing, editing and sharing of 15 essays on the contemporary South from members of the creative community and the food and beverage industry. "We strongly value the work of the Southern Foodways Alliance and what it does for the Southern community," Patrick said in a release. "We hope our gift will help achieve long-term sustainability and overall increased knowledge about the industry." These essays will examine the realities of life in the contemporary South, said John T. Edge, SFA director. The SFA had announced its 2020 focus -- to document, study and explore the future of the South -- even before the region began to struggle against challenges presented by COVID-19.
Jackson State University Counsels Local Small Businesses Impacted By COVID-19
Grace Harper started her real estate business with her husband 27 years ago in Jackson, Mississippi. Now a widow, she's been pouring her earnings back into her business. But since the coronavirus hit, some of her renters lost their jobs and can't pay her. Meanwhile, air conditioning units still need fixing. Hot water heaters need replacing. And she can't afford to pay the contractors she would normally hire. "What I have coming in is just really limited right now," she said. Meanwhile, the process of applying for the financial relief opportunities designed for small businesses has been, as Harper put it, "flat-out ridiculous." She finds herself navigating a maze of paperwork with little help from banks and potential lenders. Searching for step-by-step guidance, she's found some relief in working with Jackson State University's Small Business Development Center, which is helping her develop low-budget marketing strategies. The center, based at the local historically Black college, is counseling owners like Harper who have been impacted by COVID-19.
Golden Triangle Early College High School will not accept incoming freshman class
Golden Triangle Early College High School will not accept an incoming freshman class for the 2020-21 school year. In an email sent to parents of applicants and obtained by The Dispatch, GTECHS Principal Jill Savely said she met with superintendents from area school districts and representatives from Mississippi Department of Education Thursday afternoon and they made the decision due to concerns raised by some districts. "This was definitely not the news I had hoped to hear and I know that this is difficult for each of you as well," Savely writes in the email. Primarily, those concerns were GTECHS accepting students from private middle schools and an increase in the dual enrollment fee East Mississippi Community College planned to charge partner districts next school year. GTECHS, which opened in 2015 and is located on EMCC's Mayhew campus, accepts about 60 students per class from Columbus Municipal, Lowndes County, Starkville-Oktibbeha Consolidated, West Point Consolidated and Noxubee County school districts.
Graduation planned for 4 area high schools
The Madison County School District is moving forward with a tentative plan for individual graduation ceremonies in light of the COVID-19 crisis. In a letter to students and parents of students for the class of 2020, Madison County Schools Superintendent Charlotte Seals announced tentative plans to hold separate ceremonies for graduating seniors from May 26 through June 5. "Each graduate will be given a time during these two weeks to attend his or her in-person graduation," Seals wrote. "Guests will be limited to immediate family members of each graduate to keep attendence within government recommendations for crowd size." Seals said the district polled seniors from all four schools -- Velma Jackson, Ridgeland, Germantown and Madison Central -- and chose the plan that received the most votes. Seals said if the Mississippi Department of Health begins to permit large group gatherings on or before July 6, high schools in the district will offer a normal ceremony on or around July 18.
President Stuart Bell: Plans in place for U. of Alabama students' return
University of Alabama students will return to campus for the fall semester, and the Crimson Tide football team will return to Bryant-Denny Stadium. But there could be some changes to accommodate for the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. UA President Stuart Bell said Thursday that he's created task forces that are working on policies and procedures for academic instruction, housing, dining and other student-life activities. "Our plan is that we will have students back on campus," Bell said. "Some of the details of that may end up being a bit different." Task force members are developing guidelines for academic instruction, housing and dining procedures. They're also looking at how fans and players can stay safe on Alabama football game days. Bell said he doesn't expect a downturn in enrollment this fall due to the pandemic. "We're tracking our number of applications for new students and orientations and all of those are tracking very well for our fall semester," he said.
Auburn University finds creative way to honor graduates
Auburn University is planning to honor its spring 2020 graduates despite graduation being postponed until August. "We are proud of this graduating class and appreciate their resilience throughout the many uncertainties and challenges resulting from this global pandemic," said Provost Bill Hardgrave. "It is important that we recognize their scholarly achievements and do all we can to honor their hard work." Auburn President Jay Gogue is sending all spring 2020 graduates a commemorative gift box. Auburn spring graduates can also contribute to a photo mosaic available on Auburn's commencement website. Auburn's board of trustees conferred degrees for all spring graduates earlier in April, which allows those students to pursue employment or continue their education with the completion of their degrees. All told, 4,538 degrees were awarded for the spring graduating class, the university said.
Coronavirus in AU: 12 students, 10 employees test positive in April
As of the end of April, 10 Auburn University employees and 12 students have tested positive for the coronavirus, according to Fred Kam, medical director for the Auburn University Medical Clinic. On April 20, Kam reported that nine employees and 11 students tested positive for COVID-19. "We were concerned we might see a few people who got infected from Easter weekend but only saw one that we could say with certainty," Kam said in an email. There are no students or employees hospitalized as of Thursday afternoon, according to Kam. One employee and one student have been discharged from the hospital, Kam said. At the beginning of the month, there were five students and four Auburn University employees who tested positive for COVID-19. Last week, Kam reported that Roger Rice, who was a senior lecturer in the School of Building Science, died from COVID-19 complications.
Class is back on-campus this fall at these universities
Alabama's college students have been learning online for almost two months. They've got a smidge longer on Zoom lectures, but the end is in sight. The University of Alabama system, by way of an interview with Chancellor Finis E. St. John IV, announced students of the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, UAH and UAB would return to campus for the fall semester, barring any additional safety concerns. Since the announcement, more colleges around the state are making similar calls. "Auburn University will provide information about the second summer mini-term prior to June 1. Details for fall semester are not yet determined, although we are planning to welcome students back to campus. We hope to provide students, faculty and staff as much time as possible to prepare. Complete information for the fall will be announced no later than early July, perhaps sooner." In-class instruction is expected to resume in the fall, with all Troy campuses and locations reopening June 1, Troy University Chancellor Dr. Jack Hawkins said in a statement.
Homeland secretary chats with Auburn University experts
The nation's economic security and related cybersecurity face heightened threats as more cyber criminals are taking to online during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf told an Auburn University audience Thursday morning. Wolf spoke during a virtual fireside chat program sponsored by Auburn's McCrary Institute, which has become closely associated with national cybersecurity programs, including government agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security. Like much of the world dealing with the coronavirus, most American industries, schools and government agencies shut their doors and sent employees and students home to continue working via the internet, if working at all. The increased use of the cyber world for everyday life has led to a mirrored increase in online crime, including scams selling copycat products, malware attacks disguised with links in misleading emails, and threats to major economic institutions, Wolf said, especially as more entities turn to telework.
LSU's May 18 re-opening to include 'critical personnel' only; athletics to follow SEC guidelines
LSU has braced for a gradual re-opening of its campus activities in Baton Rouge starting May 18, which will only include "critical personnel" in a "very limited capacity," according to a plan released by the university Thursday. The plan, titled Phase 1, is set to follow all state and regional guidelines in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, and it aims to return a 25% maximum of the school's employees to work "slowly and safely," prepare the university's buildings and "develop plans for occupancy," the two-page document said. Classes will still remain online. All on-campus camps and events are cancelled through the summer, but LSU interim president Tom Galligan said the public should view Phase 1 with optimism that the university "can begin to move forward and hopefully be back fully in the fall." Lab researchers will make up the large majority of LSU's first returning employees, Galligan said.
U. of Tennessee to propose no tuition increase at all campuses due to coronavirus
The University of Tennessee System is proposing no tuition increase at all campuses because of financial hardship caused by the coronavirus. If approved, there would be no increase for undergraduate and graduate students for the 2020-21 academic year. This would be the first time in the system's history that all four campuses -- at Knoxville, Chattanooga, Martin and the Health Science Center in Memphis -- did not increase tuition. "Our students and their families are struggling right now, many financially," said System President Randy Boyd. "Our chancellors and I strongly believe that we need to do everything we can to provide them the support they need to continue their education at UT, and to make our university as affordable as possible for our incoming students." Advisory boards at each campus will meet in early May to discuss tuition, then make recommendations to the Board of Trustees for their June meeting. The vote on tuition will be taken at the June 26 meeting.
Texas A&M plans to reopen campus, play football in fall
Students, and football, are expected to return to Texas A&M this fall. Texas A&M intends to reopen its 11 university campuses for the fall semester and be ready for football, Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp told the system's presidents in a phone call Thursday morning. Texas A&M President Michael K. Young reiterated Sharp's comments to have campus open again in the fall, with online classes as an option, in an email to students and faculty Thursday afternoon. Young added summer enrollment is up at A&M and will announce plans for August graduation by the end of May. Meanwhile, University of Texas System Chancellor James B. Milliken told the Tribune during a live event Thursday that "it's pretty clear we will be open in the fall." "Not entirely like last fall, but not like this spring, either," he said. Unlike his counterpart at A&M, Milliken didn't make a declaration about football.
U. of Missouri med school faculty, staff face cuts
The University of Missouri School of Medicine announced several cost-saving measures Thursday in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Faculty pay will be cut by 10 percent through July 1. Medical school staff must take a 10 percent pay cut for three months, or a one-week unpaid furlough, based on department needs. Some medical school faculty members also work in the University of Missouri Hospital, but the cuts don't apply to nurses and other hospital employees. It's yet another in a series of financial hits MU has taken because of the pandemic. The shortfall throughout the University of Missouri System has been estimated at $180 million, out of a budget for non-health care operations of about $2.4 billion.
Coronavirus Pushes Colleges to the Breaking Point, Forcing 'Hard Choices' About Education
From schools already on the brink to the loftiest institutions, the pandemic is changing higher education in America with stunning speed. Every source of funding is in doubt. Schools face tuition shortfalls because of unpredictable enrollment and market-driven endowment losses. Public institutions are digesting steep budget cuts, while families are questioning whether it's worth paying for a private school if students will have to take classes online, from home. To brace for the pain, colleges and universities are cutting spending, freezing staff salaries and halting plans for campus building. For many schools, the pandemic is exposing flaws in their own business models. Even before the virus hit, many colleges and universities were running on razor-thin margins, with 30% of those rated by Moody's Investors Service showing operating deficits. Students who already are enrolled are rethinking their academic plans, too. James Hunter Long, a junior at Vanderbilt University who is finishing out the semester online from his family's home in Austin, Texas, said he likely will take a semester or year off if classes remain online in the fall. "You're not going to Vanderbilt to go online," said Mr. Long, 21 years old.
Amid coronavirus layoffs, high school seniors are too uncertain to commit to a college
First, coronavirus canceled spring break. Then it was graduation. College Decision Day, an already decaying tradition of declaring one's intent to attend a particular school, may be next. Many colleges, desperate for tuition money during the pandemic, have rolled back the traditional May 1 deadline to June 1. That allows families to weigh new financial concerns and get a sense of how the nation is recovering from the virus. Amid economic uncertainty and stunning job losses, some colleges are likely to welcome students of varying qualifications no matter when they decide to commit. Which means it will take months for colleges to know who their students will be, and whether the schools will be able to make ends meet on the tuition revenue they'll get. In fact, some colleges may not know for certain until they see who shows up on campus or logs on for their first online class.
Amid a pandemic, May 1 -- National College Decision Day -- means less than ever this year
It's May 1, National College Decision Day, the day high school seniors commit to a college. But for many seniors -- and the colleges that are courting them -- National College Decision Day will come and go with no decision. "At this point, May 1 is just another spring Friday," said Robert Kelchen, an associate professor of higher education and co-chair of the Department of Education Leadership Management and Policy at Seton Hall University, in New Jersey. "It doesn't have much special meaning anymore." More than 400 colleges have extended the deadline for admitted students to submit deposits to June 1 or later to give students and families more time to make their decision amid the uncertainty -- financial and otherwise -- caused by the coronavirus pandemic. In an Inside Higher Ed survey of college presidents, 39 percent said they had delayed admission deadlines in response to the pandemic. But even before the pandemic, May 1 was going to be different this year.
Some students are considering dropping out of college because of coronavirus
Colleges around the world have closed their doors and moved their classes online to stem the spread of coronavirus. An overwhelming majority of students agree with public health officials that canceling in-person classes is an important part of social distancing and containing the virus, but that doesn't mean they are prepared to invest the same amount of time and money on a different educational experience. "I know there've been some students that have already withdrawn from next year because they're worried about not getting the same type of on-campus experience that they wanted," Jeremy Alder, founder and managing editor of College Consensus, tells CNBC Make It. "And I imagine there'll [be] a lot more students deferring college to take a gap year, which is not a bad idea in any year, but I think this could definitely tip the scale for students who are trying to decide."
For Aspiring College Students, Pandemic Has Created 'Debilitating' Uncertainty
For the last few weeks, it's been tough for Alexis Jones to focus. The high school senior has been holed up in a two-bedroom apartment with, at times, four other people, on the outskirts of Washington, D.C. She's busy with her high school classes, AP tests, her online college course, plus her job at a nonprofit, for which she is still working remotely. The things that bring her joy in isolation? Painting with acrylics and daydreaming about college. Jones has committed to Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. But even that, which she says is the payoff for being such a good student these past four years, feels bittersweet. "I'm excited," says Jones, "but I don't know how to feel because I don't know if I'm going, you know, immediately in the fall with this pandemic and everything." Students across the country are navigating this traditionally exciting time with more than a bit of uncertainty and apprehension. It's unclear what college will look like in the fall, but students and families are having to make decisions now, despite worries about financial aid, travel and a highly contagious disease.
How to Get Emergency Coronavirus Aid at One University: Sign Up for Summer School
Eastern Michigan University appears to be distributing Cares Act student-relief funds to summer-school students in the form of tuition credit, a move that may violate the spirit, if not the letter, of the coronavirus-stimulus law. The college received about $13.7 million through the coronavirus-relief package, about $6.8 million of which it must distribute to students affected by the pandemic. By law, the emergency financial-aid grants are supposed to go to students to cover "authorized expenses related to the disruption of campus operations due to coronavirus." Betsy DeVos, the secretary of education, encouraged institutional leaders to prioritize students with "the greatest need" in a letter to colleges. However, the university is limiting the distribution of at least some of the funds to students enrolled in summer courses, in what appears to be the form of a tuition credit. If the university is using the federal money to defray the cost of converting in-person courses into online classes, that may violate the certification agreement administrators are required to sign in order to secure the funds.
Recovery funds help feed a university's bottom line
Congress set aside more than $6 billion in the CARES Act to help students as the coronavirus upended their plans, leaving some without food and housing. But Eastern Michigan University had another plan: Use some of federal funds to help market its summer classes. The university is offering a federally funded rebate to students who sign up for online summer classes -- including visitors who enroll from other universities -- of $500 for one class and $1,000 for two or more courses. The school's so-called EMU CARES Grant, which draws on $13.7 million of federal taxpayer funds that was set aside for the school, is credited to those who sign up for classes. The university's use of the funds to attract summer students highlights the difficulty in dispensing with billions of dollars in federal recovery money in ways that provide immediate relief to needy beneficiaries. Leeway in the law, as well as Education Department guidelines, is allowing some providers to use the money in their own ways.
Wisconsin colleges weigh how to reopen campuses in fall amid COVID-19 uncertainty
Amid an abundance of uncertainty created by COVID-19, one thing is clear: Fall on Wisconsin's college campuses will look different than it normally does. "There may be some things we simply cannot do in the fall," UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank said Monday to the University Committee, a small group of professors representing faculty members on campus. "It is quite possible that 80,000 people cannot gather in Camp Randall." Universities across the U.S. are planning for multiple fall semester scenarios. UW-Madison will announce its decision by the end of July. The three primary plans under discussion for the fall semester include face-to-face classes, an entirely online operation or a hybrid model in which some courses, such as large lectures, remain online, while smaller classes take place in person, university spokeswoman Meredith McGlone said.
Arizona's Public Universities Will Open Their Campuses In The Fall
On Thursday, Arizona's two large public university systems, University of Arizona and Arizona State University, announced plans to open their campuses for the fall 2020 semester. Taken together, the enrollment at the two schools exceeds 180,000. More than 100 schools have made statements about re-opening campuses for the fall semester. But most are hedging their bets, including words like "planning" and "intending" and phrases like "assuming governmental authorities permit." University or Arizona's president, Robert Robbins, said that he would comply with local, state and federal directives but he also promised, "we are tackling what is within our control to ensure our students have the opportunity for a full on-campus experience." Arizona State University also announced plans to reopen its campuses. President Michael Crow sent a letter to current and prospective students that said the school would "implement whatever safety measures and health protocols are necessary to keep students and employees safe" when the semester starts on August 20.
New CBO Projections Suggest Even Bigger State Shortfalls
State budget shortfalls from COVID-19's economic fallout could total $650 billion over three years, we estimate based on new economic projections from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and updated projections from Goldman Sachs. The new figures -- significantly higher than estimates we recently issued based on economic projections of a month ago -- increase the urgency that policymakers enact additional federal fiscal relief and continue it as long as economic conditions warrant. CBO now projects that unemployment will average 15 percent for the next six months and then fall only slowly. It will still be 9.5 percent -- just short of its 10 percent peak in the Great Recession -- at the end of 2021. These CBO estimates take into account the federal aid already enacted for businesses, individuals, and state and local governments. That's considerably more pessimistic than CBO's April 2 projections and Goldman Sachs' projections of March 31 and April 15.
Gov. Tate Reeves, not Legislature, should spend federal emergency coronavirus money
Former Gov. Haley Barbour writes: I have been surprised and disappointed to read reports that some in our legislative branch of state government are trying to disrupt and change how Mississippi has effectively responded to emergency situations for decades. In any emergency, someone has to be in charge, and in our system of government, that is the governor. That is not to minimize the important role to be played by the state Legislature, mayors, supervisors and other elected officials. But the governor is ultimately accountable. Recently, Congress passed and President Trump signed the CARES Act, which established a $150 billion Coronavirus Relief Fund, from which the state of Mississippi has received $1.25 billion. ... State law has been very clear for decades about how to handle this type of situation. Under state statute 33-15-27, the governor is authorized to accept such funds for the purpose of emergency management. Under state statute 27-104-21, the governor, through the Department of Finance and Administration, has the authority to spend the funds. No action of the state Legislature is expected or required. This is how it has worked for decades in our state, and for good reason.

'We didn't think it was real': Inside the final 48 hours of Mississippi State's baseball season
It was just after 8 p.m. as Mississippi State coach Chris Lemonis rounded a corner in the underbelly of MGM Park for postgame media availability. With the bright lights of the Beau Rivage and Hard Rock Casinos gleaming over the playing field, Lemonis' squad had just earned a midweek sweep of No. 4 Texas Tech in the minor league home of the Double-A Biloxi Shuckers. Lemonis hadn't looked at his phone since an hour before the game, and he still hadn't peeked at it when Assistant Director of Communications Greg Campbell greeted him in the subterranean hallway. "Hey man, a lot's gone on since y'all started playing baseball," Campbell informed him. Unbeknownst to Lemonis and most of the Bulldogs, the United States had found itself in the early stages of the COVID-19 crisis. In a matter of days, it would bring a complete halt to all normalcy society generally enjoys. "You're just sitting there like, 'Wow, this is really happening,'" Lemonis later told The Dispatch.
Sean Payton, New Orleans Saints draft QB Tommy Stevens before Panthers could sign him as UDFA
Without a selection to make during the final day of this year's NFL draft, which consisted of rounds 4-7, the New Orleans Saints and coach Sean Payton began turning their attention to the incoming undrafted free agent pool they would have to move on the moment the draft ended. When one of their desired players had a deal lined up elsewhere, the team sprung into action, Payton detailed to reporters Thursday. The Saints began a dialogue with Mississippi State quarterback Tommy Stevens and his agent, Buddy Baker. They quickly discovered Stevens had a deal lined up with the Carolina Panthers. Letting Stevens go to a NFC South division rival wasn't going to sit well with Payton, although the quarterback's motivations made sense -- he'd worked with Panthers offensive coordinator Joe Brady, then a graduate assistant, at Penn State, where Stevens had started his collegiate career. "It became my project," Payton said, per ESPN. "There's no way I was going to lose this kid.
SEC Commissioner says 'hope is not a plan,' but is moving conference toward playing football this fall
Southeastern Conference Commissioner Greg Sankey says the league is aiming for an on-time start to the college football season in September. If there isn't a season, Sankey figures we've all got bigger problems than missing football. "If we're not playing football in the fall," Sankey said Thursday on WJXL-FM in Jacksonville, Florida, "I'd leave the football field and be thinking about what's happening around us. If football is not an active part of our life in the fall, what's happening around us becomes a real big question societally, economically and culturally." Speaking on the sports radio talk show in Jacksonville as well as the SEC Network's Paul Finebaum Show on Wednesday, Sankey made clear the point of how imperative it is for college athletics to return with the 2020-21 academic year after spring sports were canceled in March by the coronavirus pandemic. The reaction to the virus' worldwide grip led to the unprecedented cancelation of the NCAA basketball tournaments and the College World Series. But now the urge to get college sports back online is growing.
UGA athletics takes financial hit from pandemic, but no pay cuts implemented
Football and basketball coaches at schools including Minnesota, Louisville, Washington State, Syracuse, Rutgers, and Kansas are taking pay cuts as athletic departments take financial hits during the coronavirus pandemic. No similar steps are anticipated for now at Georgia. "Some institutions are doing so just to be whole in this fiscal year which ends June 30," athletic director Greg McGarity said. "Some institutions are struggling, obviously, to get to that point so they have no alternative. Other schools are dependent on state funds. The only fees we receive outside of what we generate ourselves are our student fees. That's a very small portion of our total budget." Even with Georgia seemingly well-positioned financially, a year without a football season would bring "dire consequences," school president Jere Morehead said in an interview last week on 680 AM's Bulldog Roundtable. That's why schools and conferences will try to make every effort to play the season.
Arkansas AD Hunter Yurachek backs transfer changes
University of Arkansas athletics director Hunter Yurachek is in favor of a potential NCAA rule change that would allow players in the most high-profile sports to transfer once without penalty. The NCAA Division I Council is expected to vote this month on whether to allow all scholarship athletes in football, men's and women's basketball, baseball and men's ice hockey to transfer once without having to sit out a year, as NCAA rules currently read for those sports. Athletes in most other NCAA sports are immediately eligible following a transfer from their initial team. Yurachek has said that he thinks the proposed one-time transfer exemption will pass, but it hit a potential snag Thursday when the 25-member NCAA Board of Governors recommended against the proposal. The 40-member Division I Council is expected to vote on the proposal May 20. A working group of college administrators has recommended in favor of the one-time transfer exemption for the five sports, as have the Big Ten and ACC.

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