Thursday, June 25, 2020   
After busy day at Capitol, some feel momentum build for flag change: 'The votes are there'
The efforts to change the state flag are picking up momentum at the State Capitol. Wednesday, more state leaders weighed in on why they believe the stars and bars should be taken off Mississippi's state banner. Also lobbying with lawmakers for a flag change -- the presidents from the state's universities, holding closed door meetings with the Speaker of the House and Lieutenant Governor. Dr. Mark Keenum, President of Mississippi State University, said, "They've indicated that they have the position they are advocating to the respective membership and urging the members to vote to change the flag." This time around, everyone from education leaders to lawmakers believe they can get it done. Keenum said, "This symbol is holding us back in the eyes of citizens all across this nation. Citizens around the globe view that symbol as a symbol of hatred and racism."
Lawmakers face pressure to change Mississippi state flag
Momentum is building to change Mississippi's state flag as the legislative session is winding down at the State Capitol. With Lieutenant Governor Delbert Hosemann and House Speaker Philip Gunn appearing to now be on the same page, the flag could soon come down. Amid pressure, Hosemann is changing his tune and calling on the legislature to vote on the flag. He issued a statement regarding his position before he met with university presidents from around the state. "Take legislative action to change our state flag. It's past time to do this. I feel like it's important for our state, our future, for our state economy, for our young students. We are educating our future leaders to give them a chance for a brighter future in this great state that we dearly love," said Mississippi State University President Mark Keenum.
Mississippi State President stands by Kylin Hill
Sometimes when you take a stand you stand alone. Mississippi State running back Kylin Hill has said that he will not play if the state flag is not changed. But he's not standing alone on changing the flag. Wednesday morning MSU President Mark Keenum voiced his full support in running back Hill's decision to not play this season if the state flag of Mississippi is not changed. President Keenum continues to show his support in favor of changing the state flag as well. "This is in the best interests of all of our citizens. All of our universities, all of our businesses and companies and just to have a bright future to change this flag," Keenum said. The university president also talked about Kylin's leadership and of student athletes who all feel that a change is needed. "Our young student athletes feel very passionate about this and he's shown his courage and he's stepped up and he's really put his career in jeopardy because he's that passionate about this issue of changing our flag. I have nothing but high regard and respect for Kylin Hill."
Mississippi gov might not block change to rebel-themed flag
Mississippi Republican Gov. Tate Reeves said Wednesday, for the first time, that he probably would not stand in the way if legislators muster a large enough majority to remove the Confederate battle emblem from the state flag. Amid the backdrop of national protests over racial injustice, Mississippi is under increasing pressure from business and religious leaders, sports leagues and others to divorce itself from a symbol that many see as racist. All eight of Mississippi's public universities stopped flying the state flag years ago because of the Confederate symbol. The universities' leaders were at the Capitol on Wednesday trying to build support for a legislative vote on changing the flag. "We know this symbol is holding us back in the eyes of citizens all across this nation," said Mississippi State University President Mark Keenum. "And citizens around the globe view that symbol as a symbol of hatred and racism."
Health Care Hero: Mississippi State's Jean-Francois Gout
An international team is trying to better understand genetic mutations in the coronavirus. It's the kind of work that can lead to more effective treatment and maybe even a vaccine. One the team's principal investigators, who also happens to be an Assistant Biology professor at Mississippi State, is a 12 News Health Care Hero. Jean-Francois Gout is passionate about mutation rates in viruses, and he's just the kind of person the world needs right now. The Mississippi State University Assistant Professor in Computational Biology explains,"Well, the virus is always mutating. Every time the virus replicates itself, there is a certain probability that it is going make a mistake, and these mistakes in the mutations happen all the time." Some mutations could make the virus more lethal, but most are bad for it. Gout is part of an international team working through the National Science Foundation to better understand Covid mutations.
Mississippi State stargazers Angelle Tanner, Claire Geneser part of new planet discovery
A Mississippi State physics and astronomy faculty member and graduate student are among authors of a paper published in the journal Nature today [June 24] announcing their discovery of a new planet orbiting a nearby star 31.9 light-years away. The discovery positions astronomers to increase their understanding of how stars and planets form and evolve. A research team that includes MSU Associate Professor Angelle Tanner and MSU physics doctoral student Claire Geneser of Argenta, Illinois, utilized NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, known as TESS, and the recently retired Spitzer Space Telescope to find the Neptune-sized planet. Tanner said the research team still is collecting data on the AU Mic system to see if other planets may be detected and to measure the orientation of the spin and orbital axes of the star and planets. "It has been an exhilarating time, and I have been lucky to get to enjoy a discovery like this right now," Tanner said.
MSU Libraries documents pandemic through digital archive
Mississippi State University Libraries is creating a COVID-19 digital archive where MSU students, faculty and Starkville residents can document materials that tell a story about their experiences during the pandemic. MSU Humanities Librarian Corinne Kennedy said she wants to have an easily accessible record of the pandemic and how it affected the community. Anyone affiliated with MSU and Starkville, including alumni, can participate. Those interested can submit materials by filling out a submission form on the University Libraries website. "It is important for people to submit materials because whatever our new normal is will be important for researchers who study the history of pandemics to learn about," Kennedy said. "It is also important for the MSU community to see how this actually affected people during this time."
Area school board members tour new state-of-the-art facility
Wednesday morning, board members with the Starkville Oktibbeha Consolidated School District toured the new Partnership Middle School. School Board member Wes Gordon has children of his own that will be among the first to experience some of the school's new amenities. "My oldest is in the band, and we just got done touring the band hall, the fine arts area, and it was incredible. It's beautiful. It's definitely one of the showpieces in this facility," said Gordon. In addition to fine arts, students will get hands-on experience with agriculture -- thanks to a $900,000 grant from Blue Cross Blue Shield. "They're putting gardens in the courtyard area, and all of the downstairs classrooms have access to that." said Gordon. Middle school students aren't the only ones utilizing the new campus. Mississippi State University will also have classrooms and offices in the building.
A look at protests over the the decades
People all over the country are standing up to racial injustices by taking to the streets to protest. Many are following in the footsteps of a generation now old enough to be their grandparents. A generation that marched for voting rights, civil rights, and equal rights. Dr. Marty Wiseman taught political science for years at Mississippi State University and he has watched history unfold. "One thing that you can compare it to is the protests in the 60s. You had back then a confluence of ant-war protests and the culmination of the civil rights movement, so you had a lot of people making their statements in the streets." Wiseman said there is one big change from the 60's to now. Information is instant, and some protests take place solely on social media. "The internet, Facebook, Snapchat, and all of the different means of communication and the 24-hour news channels that are constantly searching for content."
Two Coast casinos make masks mandatory for guests, visitors
Two Biloxi casinos will now require guests as well as employees to wear masks on property. The parent companies of Harrah's and the Beau Rivage both announced on Wednesday that masks are now mandatory while inside the casino. MGM Resorts International, the parent company to the Beau Rivage, said the new policy will go into effect at 6 a.m. Thursday for all guests and visitors who are on the property. Previously, MGM required all employees to wear masks, while guest and visitor mask requirements were based on local regulations. In Mississippi, masks have been optional and it's been at the discretion of businesses whether or not to make them mandatory. Harrah's parent company Caesars Entertainment Corporation also announced a mandatory mask policy, which went into effect at noon on Wednesday. The updated mask policy applies to all employees, vendors, contractors, guests and passersby in properties.
Bok Homa Casino enhances safety measures before reopening
While many casinos across Mississippi are now open, Bok Homa Casino in Sandersville remains closed. The casino closed in March due to COVID-19 concerns. Since then, major steps have been taken in preparation for its reopening, like adding thermal temperature scanners to the casino entrance. "The device itself will record the temperature from the outside to the temperature on the inside and will also check the heat from the neck to the face and it give us a read out of the temperature," Pearl River Resort Director of Security Faron Gardner said. "Anything 100.4 or above, that's going to get our attention." "We have actually put in over $600,000 worth of technology between our three properties; Golden Moon, Silver Star and right here at Bok Homa Casino," Pearl River Resort Director of Public Relations Erica Moore said. "We're taking this very seriously and we're going to make sure that this is one of the safest place that our guest can choose to come and play. Bok Homa Casino is requiring facemasks for associates and has added additional hand sanitizer stations around the property. No date has been set for their reopening.
State, local health officials attribute COVID-19 surges to increased social behavior
As Wednesday revealed the second highest single day number of COVID-19 cases, the Mississippi State Department of Health anticipates that the increase in cases will continue. Wednesday saw 526 cases of COVID-19 and 22 deaths in Mississippi. This comes one day after 611 cases were reported Tuesday, which is the highest reported number of single day cases. State Health Officer Thomas Dobbs said the numbers are "getting worse everyday" and cited generalized community transmission as causing rises across the state. "It does seem that it's related to increased social behavior, people engaging with one another in social venues, whether it's going to be restaurants and that sort of thing," Dobbs told the Daily Journal. "A lot of it is actually parties, get-togethers. We've seen a lot of cases linked to fraternity rush parties."
Mississippi tops 1,000 deaths from COVID-19 as cases rise
Mississippi has surpassed 1,000 deaths from the new coronavirus, according to numbers released by the state Health Department on Wednesday. The numbers showed the second-highest single-day increase in cases in Mississippi. The highest single-day number was the day before. The state health officer, Dr. Thomas Dobbs, had said Tuesday that Mississippi is seeing a surge of cases because people are ignoring safety guidelines by having large gatherings and not wearing masks. "It's not a joke. Really bad things are going to happen," Dobbs told The Associated Press. The Health Department said Wednesday that Mississippi has had at least 23,424 cases and 1,011 deaths from the coronavirus as of Tuesday evening.
'Major disaster' looms as Mississippians ignore COVID-19 rules, top health official says
State Health Officer Thomas Dobbs warns that hospitals will be overrun in the fall at the rate COVID-19 is spreading because so many Mississippians fail to follow simple public health guidelines. Hospitals, and especially intensive care units, are already filling up even though public health officials had hoped novel coronavirus cases would slow down in the summer. They have not. Instead, COVID-19 cases are beginning to soar in the reopened economy. "We're full in so many places," Dobbs said in an interview Wednesday with the Sun Herald. "We have a stressed health infrastructure, and we're adding stress on top of stress to the infrastructure. We don't have the staff to take care of the people we have right now, essentially. And now is the slow time. I know it sounds kind of preposterous, although it's becoming less so as the cases begin to mount." He believes an executive order mandating masks in retail stores might be needed.
Mississippi's coronavirus hospitalization rates at all time high
The Department of Health is reporting record numbers for suspected and confirmed coronavirus hospitalizations, and the state has also passed 1,000 COVID-19 related deaths. Dr. Alan Jones with the University of Mississippi Medical Center says bed space for coronavirus patients is limited, and if residents don't consider the virus a serious risk, "You will quickly use up that limited resource and we'll either have to revert back to some type of draconian measures associated with limitation of movement and medical procedures, or hospitals won't be able to care for the number of patients that we'll have." Oversaturated hospitals are already turning away patients, according to State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs. "We're already seeing it now. I got an email from somebody an older person who broke their leg, and they couldn't get to a hospital anywhere because all the hospitals were full, even for things that are not COVID-19 related," says Dr. Dobbs. "So we have already stressed out our healthcare system, and with more cases coming on board it's only gonna get worse." People need to limit large gatherings, wear masks, and practice social distancing so infection rates can decline, says Jones.
As leaders continue to count votes to change state flag, Delbert Hosemann throws support behind legislative action
Though legislative leaders have indicated they don't yet have the votes necessary to change the state flag, a new comment from Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann suggests the Mississippi Legislature may take action after all. "... the Legislature in 1894 selected the current flag and the Legislature should address it today. Failing to do so only harms us and postpones the inevitable," Hosemann said in a statement Wednesday. Hosemann, whose previous public statements have indicated that he believes the state flag should be changed via referendum, made clear Wednesday that he now believes it should be done solely by the Legislature. The statement comes as lawmakers face increasing pressure to change the state flag, which contains the Confederate battle emblem.
Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann supports new state flag
Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann on Wednesday openly threw his support behind a new state flag and indicated a willingness to pursue legislative action to make a change. Amid the strongest and most sustained push for a new flag in the Mississippi since a 2001 ballot referendum, Hosemann now joins Speaker of the House Philip Gunn in calling for a new flag. Both men are Republicans. In a written statement released Wednesday, Hosemann acknowledged the convictions and sincerity of those on each side of the flag debate, but said he is compelled by "the future of our children and grandchildren" to call for change. The powerful Mississippi Economic Council and CEOs of some of the largest publicly traded companies in the state rallied behind the cause on Wednesday. Mike Tagert, the president and CEO of the Greater Starkville Development Partnership, said, "We strongly agree that we need to change the flag. And I have personally been on record that I believe we need to change the flag. The GSDP has been on record since 2015 and we have a brand new resolution reaffirming our position."
New poll finds majority of Mississippians support changing state flag
A majority of Mississippi voters now appear to support changing the state flag and its Confederate battle emblem, a new poll released by the Mississippi Economic Council shows. The poll, announced Wednesday, said 55% of voters now support changing the flag to 41% opposed -- a stunning shift from just 18 months ago, when another survey found 54% opposed changing the state flag. The poll was conducted by the Tarrance Group, which has significant experience polling in Mississippi and receives a "B/C" grade for accuracy and methodology by FiveThirtyEight. "In the nearly 20 years we have held the position of changing the state flag, we have never seen voters so much in favor of change," said MEC President Scott Waller. "These recent polling numbers show what people believe, and that the time has come for us to have a new flag that serves as a unifying symbol for our entire state."
New poll shows that most Mississippians support changing flag
The state's chamber of commerce has released a new poll that shows a seismic shift among Mississippi voters in favor of changing the state flag to remove its Confederate battle emblem. The poll released by the Mississippi Economic Council shows voters favorable to changing the flag 55% to 41%, a flip from a 2019 poll that showed 54% of voters favored keeping the current flag. MEC says polling data supports its call for the Legislature to act this week to "change the flag now." The poll was conducted last week by the Tarrance Group, a company with extensive political polling experience in Mississippi that has polled voters on the flag issue for years. It also showed that support for changing the flag jumped to 72% when people were asked about changing to a "state seal flag" that includes the motto "In God We Trust." The survey showed the state seal version has support from a majority of Black and white Mississippians.
PSC Commissioner Brandon Presley talks utilities during COVID, expansion of broadband
"We knew that we had a broadband problem in the state of Mississippi long before the COVID-19 pandemic," said Northern District Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley. "This pandemic has forced us to really look that problem in the face and take real action on it." In nearly a moment's notice businesspeople were working from home, students were doing schoolwork at home and the world began functioning more on a "tele-commuting" platform. Presley said if anything, the pandemic exposed a great digital divide across the state of Mississippi. While other utilities did not suffer, internet which was now greatly needed, struggled. Presley said other than a handful of complaints most individuals did not lose access to vital utilities like water, gas and electricity. "We've got to get the broadband gap filled in Mississippi and give people in rural communities the same quality of life of people in more populated areas," said Presley. Legislators are currently handling a few bills to address broadband expansion.
Chris Howard re-elected to PERS Board of Trustees, Randy McCoy voted vice chair
Chris Howard, of Madison and executive director of the Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services, has been re-elected to the Public Employees' Retirement System of Mississippi (PERS) Board of Trustees as one of its two state employee representatives. At its June 23 meeting, the Board certified the runoff election results between Howard, who has served as a state employee representative since July 1, 2014, and Misti Munroe, Mississippi Legislative Budget Office chief revenue officer. Howard's new six-year term will run from July 1, 2020, to June 30, 2026. He begins his term by transitioning from vice chair to chair of the Board for fiscal year 2020, which begins July 1. He succeeds Dr. Brian Rutledge, University of Mississippi Medical Center chief of staff, as chair. Dr. Randy McCoy, retired superintendent of Tupelo Public School District and one of two retiree representatives on the Board, was elected by the Board June 23 to serve as vice chair for fiscal year 2020.
Senate approves 200th federal judge nominated by President Trump
The Senate has approved the nomination of a Mississippi judge to a federal appeals court, the 200th federal judge named by President Donald Trump and confirmed by the Republican-controlled chamber. It's the highest number of judicial nominees confirmed at this stage of a presidency in four decades. Cory Wilson was elevated to a seat on the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal despite Democratic objections that he has a record of working to undermine voting rights of African Americans and other minorities. Approval came on a nearly party-line, 52-48 vote Wednesday. Maine Sen. Susan Collins was the only Republican to vote against Wilson. Wilson, a former Republican state legislator, has been a state appeals court judge for 16 months. The 5th Circuit, which hears cases from Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas, is considered one of the most conservative appeals courts in the nation.
Senate confirms 200th judge under President Trump
The Senate confirmed its 200th federal judge under President Donald Trump Wednesday, a key milestone in Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's push to reshape the judiciary. In a 52-48 vote, the Senate approved Cory Wilson to the powerful U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. Prior to his confirmation, McConnell described Wilson as an "outstanding choice" with impeccable legal credentials. The Kentucky Republican also highlighted that Wilson's confirmation means that there will no longer be any circuit court vacancies for Trump and the GOP to fill. In a letter sent Monday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) along with Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) urged McConnell not to move forward with his nomination. They noted Wilson's strong support for voter ID laws, which they said encourages voter suppression.
Man accused of threatening to kill Mississippi Democrat Bennie Thompson, staffers
A grand jury on Tuesday indicted a Mississippi man on charges of threatening to kill House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) and members of his staff. The man, Newton Wade Townsend, "did threaten to murder B.T. [Bennie Thompson] and his staffers, a member of Congress and United States officials, with intent to impede, intimidate and interfere with B.T. and his staffers while they were engaged in the performance of their official duties, and to retaliate against B.T. and his staffers on account of their official duties," the indictment reads, according to the Jackson Clarion-Ledger. "A violent threat against a public official is a serious federal crime. The United States Attorney's Office will continue to protect victims, prosecute those fueled by hate who seek to intimidate and terrorize others, and always ensure that justice is done," U.S. Attorney Mike Hurst said in a statement.
Congressman Bennie Thompson to serve as Democratic National Convention Chairman
According to a release on Wednesday, the Democratic National Convention Committee (DNCC) announced their convention plan to broadcast from Milwaukee and across the nation, "in a convention geared to reach out to all Americans." The Democrat Convention will include four nights of programming from August 17-20, 2020. The DNCC announced that Mississippi Congressman Bennie Thompson (MS-02) will serve as Permanent Chair of the 2020 Democratic National Convention. The Convention Chair presides over all official convention business. Thompson is the first elected official from Mississippi to preside as Chair of the Democratic National Convention. Democrats will officially nominate Vice President Joe Biden as the Democratic nominee for president at the Convention.
Thompson wants Mississippi statues removed from U.S. Capitol; Guest says state should decide
Monuments with ties to the Confederacy are facing criticism across the country following the killing of George Floyd. Now that conversation is taking place in the halls of Congress. A Mississippi congressman is leading the charge to remove Confederate statues from the U.S. Capitol. These figures are representative of each state's past. The story for Mississippi reads as one of strong Confederate sympathies. "I think it's time we cleared the deck," said Rep. Bennie Thompson, a Democrat who represents the 2nd Congressional District. He says changing the state's representation in the Capitol is overdue. Rep. Michael Guest, the Republican representative for the 3rd Congressional District, says the state's representation in these halls is something they should review, but he thinks the final decision needs to be made at the state level. "I would be opposed to the federal government ordering or dictating Mississippi to remove those statues," said Guest. Guest says there may be more appropriate representatives of Mississippi like, Walter Payton or Elvis Presley. But if Mississippians want these changes to happen, he says they should be made by the state Legislature who decided on the statues in the first place.
Republicans ready counterpunch over Confederate-named military bases
A GOP member of the Senate Armed Services Committee proposed legislation Wednesday that is aimed at countering a campaign to expunge from Defense Department property homages to the Confederacy. The measure -- an amendment to the defense authorization bill by Josh Hawley of Missouri -- could become the principal conservative answer to a call for removing commemorations of the South's "lost cause" such as the name of Fort Bragg in North Carolina or of ships such as the USS Chancellorsville. The campaign to do away with Confederate names in the U.S. military is, like the moves to topple statues honoring Confederates, driven by the anger sparked by the police killing of George Floyd and other Black people. Those tensions are reflected on Capitol Hill. The friction over this question will loom large when the Senate takes up the defense bill, or NDAA, which is queued up for debate next week.
Covid-19 patients at UMMC: Inside look at Mississippi hospital care
Do not say the "Q word" on the University of Mississippi Medical Center's all-COVID-19 intensive care unit. The lack of noise on the 20-bed medical ICU, or MICU, might beg the question: Is it quiet today? What might happen over the next 10 minutes belies that? "We don't like that word around here. It brings bad luck," said Tony Sistrunk, a MICU charge nurse. "As soon as you say it, things might pop off. That's a word we take out of our vocabulary." When quiet turns into what some on the unit would call chaos, it's nothing like the scenario Americans saw on television of overwhelmed, overcrowded hospitals in New York City, and of front-line caregivers publicly begging for personal protective equipment amid a worldwide shortage. Instead, a flurry of activity could entail patients from the all-COVID wing of the second floor of University Hospital being moved to the MICU if their condition deteriorates, or to the cardiovascular ICU, which devotes half its beds to COVID-19 patients, depending on the need.
U. of Mississippi to end fall semester before Thanksgiving
The University of Mississippi is modifying its calendar for the fall semester due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Classes will begin as scheduled on Aug. 24, with the final day of classes taking place on Nov. 17. "As part of the ongoing planning for the upcoming 2020 semester, the university is issuing a modified fall 2020 academic calendar as part of our efforts to protect the health and safety of the campus community," the school's announcement on Wednesday night read. Final exams for the fall semester are now being administered Nov. 18 through 20 and Nov. 23 through 24. This changes from previous years, when the fall semester would end the first week of December, followed by final exams. The only holiday observed and the lone day off students will have during the semester is Labor Day on Sept. 7.
Nissan donates $55,000 to support STEM programs at Alcorn
Nissan North America, Inc. donated $55,000 to Alcorn State University to supports its Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) programs. "Alcorn is thankful for Nissan's generosity because it shows their willingness to help our students reach new heights," said President Felecia M. Nave. "Because I have a background in STEM, it is an honor to receive funds to enhance resources and the quality of learning for our students in those fields. We look forward to continuing our partnership with Nissan in the future." Jennifer Swanner, a corporate communications specialist at Nissan, spoke about how helping Alcorn's STEM students fit perfectly with the company's mission. "Nissan North America, Inc. is committed to achieving its global mission of 'Enriching People's Lives' by not only offering our customers unparalleled products and services but by improving the quality of life in the communities in which Nissan operates," said Swanner in a letter to the University. "Investing in Alcorn students provides a critical career pathway to grow our future workforce."
Three Mississippi students selected as 2020 HBCU White House Competitiveness Scholars
The 2020 White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) will include three students from Mississippi. Two of the students are from Mississippi Valley State University (MVSU) and one student is from Alcorn State University (ASU). MVSU's students are Remeya Ganesh of Toronto, Canada, and Chyna Sawyers of London, England. They are 3 of 44 students from 33 HBCUs selected for the White House Initiative. Scholars are chosen based on their academic achievements, campus and civic involvement, and entrepreneurial ethos. The Competitiveness Scholars are comprised of undergraduate, graduate, professional students, and international students from various academic backgrounds. The 2020 scholars were selected from among several highly distinguished HBCU students.
Mississippi education shows improvement in Kids Count 2020 Data Book
Mississippi showed the greatest improvement in education -- ranked 39th in the country, up from a previous ranking of 44 in 2019 -- according to new data released in the Annie E. Casey Foundation's annual Kids Count 2020 Data Book. Gains in high school graduation and fourth grade literacy contributed to the rise, the Mississippi Department of Education said in a statement. Mississippi high school students are more likely to graduate on time now than the previous year, and fourth-graders not proficient in reading improved from 2019, dropping from 73% to 68%. Linda Southward, director of the Children's Foundation of Mississippi, said that for Mississippi to continue improving, the state must make sure that children and families are provided with services they need during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. It's more critical than ever for every child to have computers and access to broadband internet. That, along with quality early care and education and more pre-K classrooms are how Mississippi can build on its successes, according to Southward.
At One Flagship, Coronavirus Cases Surge Even in the Midst of Summer
Fall classes aren't scheduled to begin until August at the University of South Carolina at Columbia. But officials are already worried about a recent spike in coronavirus cases among students. The president, Robert L. Caslen, attributed the cases -- an increase of 79 in eight days -- to off-campus gatherings in nearby neighborhoods and bars. "That's concerning," he said during a town-hall meeting on Tuesday. "It has our attention." The university's flagship campus as of June 21 had counted 204 student cases -- a cumulative total going back to March. But in recent days, the count has risen quickly. It was at 125 cases on June 13 and at 174 cases on June 15, Caslen said. Such an outbreak underscores a harsh reality for colleges as they plan for the fall semester: They can do only so much to control student behavior, especially when students leave the campus.
Texas A&M cleans graffiti from Sul Ross statue, removes barrier
The statue of Lawrence Sullivan Ross on the Texas A&M campus has been cleaned of graffiti after being vandalized earlier this month. The statue had been under a tarp and behind fencing since shortly after it was discovered that it had been vandalized with graffiti early June 10. University Police Department officials said last week that video surveillance shows a person painting the statue with graffiti around 3:38 a.m. The person appeared to have acted alone, officials said. The statue has been the focus of a debate on campus since shortly after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. A petition calling for the statue's removal was quickly followed by a petition calling for the university to leave it in place. Last week, Texas A&M President Michael K. Young announced plans to form a commission to address the future of the statue on campus.
Texas A&M won't require ACT/SAT scores for 2021 freshman applicants
Texas A&M University announced Wednesday it will not require freshman applicants for spring, summer and fall of 2021 to submit ACT or SAT scores due to limited testing availability during the COVID-19 pandemic. Chris Reed, A&M's executive director of admissions, said the decision to not require test scores was to support students and provide fair admissions decisions. "Given the continued restrictions on in-person testing opportunities and in light of recent announcements regarding halted plans for virtual testing, we recognize that action needs to be taken," Reed said in a statement. "Students may continue to submit standardized scores from their SAT and/or ACT tests for consideration for admission. Submission of tests scores will not create any unfair advantage or disadvantage for those students who provide them."
Graduate programs drop GRE after online version raises concerns about fairness
As COVID-19 swept across the United States, standardized testing centers closed and the GRE General Test -- an exam that's required for admission to many U.S. graduate programs -- went online. The Educational Testing Service (ETS), which offers the GRE, "completely revamped its delivery model so [aspiring graduate students] can test from the safety of home," it declared in May. Since then, though, scores of academics have raised concerns about the equity of the online version of the test, arguing it disadvantages prospective students from rural and low-income backgrounds. "If I were ... a student trying to take this exam, satisfying [the online testing] criteria would be extremely difficult for me," says Emily Levesque, an assistant professor of astronomy at the University of Washington, Seattle. Other departments have decided to forgo the GRE for good. "We've been thinking about [eliminating it] for a long time," says Chrissy Wiederwohl, assistant department head for engagement and graduate affairs for Texas A&M University, College Station's oceanography department, which voted to stop requiring GRE scores earlier this month. "COVID is what helped front-burner it."
Progress made on U. of Missouri diversity efforts, report says, but further steps needed
A new report evaluating diversity, inclusion and equity efforts at the University of Missouri observed progress in recent years but acknowledged further steps and transparent leadership were needed to fully heal the campus' divides. The report, "Leading After a Racial Crisis: Weaving a Campus Tapestry of Diversity and Inclusion," is the second from the American Council of Education examining how MU's on-campus efforts have evolved since 2015 student protests about racism. The protests resulted in the resignations of the top leaders at MU and the University of Missouri System. Notable among MU's steps in recent years is the implementation of the Inclusion Excellence Framework, aimed at creating a more equitable campus through a variety of dimensions. The campus adopted the framework in June 2017. That framework frequently impacts the work done within administrative units, but its priority on the micro level depends on the unit, said MU Faculty Council chair Clark Peters.
Police probe death at Florida State fraternity after accidental fall
A former Florida State University student was found dead Wednesday morning outside the Sigma Alpha Epsilon house, prompting police to investigate reports he fell from the roof in an accident. Two members of the fraternity, who did not provide their names, told the Tallahassee Democrat someone fell from the roof of the frat house at 415 W. College Ave. Lt. John Baker, a spokesman for the FSU Police Department, said the victim was a 21-year-old former student. FSU President John Thrasher stopped by the scene early in the morning to check on students and officers. "Do you all need anything?" he asked a group of fraternity members who gathered on the front lawn. Thrasher, in a brief interview, expressed sorrow over the death and praised the efforts of police. "Obviously, we're broken-hearted anytime we lose any of our kids," he said. "It's really tough."
Update on fall semester plans amid virus
Every week the fall semester gets closer. Thus, each week comes with new announcements about how -- and if -- campuses are planning to reopen. Many universities are continuing the trend of ending in-person instruction by Thanksgiving and continuing remotely after that time, in addition to forgoing any fall breaks. Many others are continuing to announce hybrid options. While that can mean a range of things, it roughly shakes out to less time and fewer people in class and more coursework done online. As has become clear, online and in-person learning exist on a continuum, and institutions are beginning to plot out where exactly they will fall on that spectrum. Outside of instruction, other institutions have been releasing new details about how they plan to clean spaces and manage student movement. In the background of college plans, coronavirus cases are spiking in many states, and some governors are implementing new restrictions.
Wealthier colleges can offer more protection from COVID-19 than cash-strapped peers
When classes resume at Purdue University's campus in late August, many professors will wear masks and give lectures to students from behind part of the mile of Plexiglas the institution has bought. And on the other side, the students will be wearing masks. It's unclear how much more protection the Plexiglas will really provide. But Purdue is able to spend as much as $50 million to try to limit the spread of the coronavirus. And besides putting up the barriers, the university says it is redesigning nearly every physical space on campus, including spreading out desks in classrooms so that they will only hold half as many students as before. But not all faculty members and students around the country will have the same amount of protection. And illustrating the impact financial disparities between institutions could have as colleges reopen, college presidents worried in interviews last week about more basic protections than throwing up Plexiglas barriers.
Clinical education starts to resume, haltingly, in many health-care fields
Clinical training for students in health-care fields effectively came to a halt when the coronavirus pandemic was declared in March. Colleges and the hospitals and other clinical sites with which they partner canceled clinical placements to protect students and patients from infection and preserve scarce supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE) for essential workers. Colleges turned to alternative means to give students clinical training using telehealth and simulations, even while health-care educators acknowledged there was no substitute for in-person patient contact. Three months later, as more and more states emerge from lockdowns prompted by the public health emergency, students in health-care fields are starting to resume in-person clinical training. The process of returning is not simple or straightforward, however, and it varies across institutions and health-care fields.
Moody's Documents Likely Enrollment Effects by State if Students Stay Close to Home Come Fall
A new report from Moody's Investors Service examines which states are likely to see enrollment rise or fall in the event the coronavirus pandemic prompts students to stay closer to home than they have in recent years. The ratings agency and other experts have theorized that heightened health and affordability concerns will cause many students to enroll in college closer to home than they otherwise would have. Moody's used recently released National Center for Education Statistics data on first-time undergraduate enrollment, residence and migration by state to determine which states are most likely to see gains and losses come fall under such a scenario. More than 20 percent of college students come from out of state in seven in 10 states, according to the data, from fall 2018. New Hampshire, North Dakota, Rhode Island and Vermont all rely on out-of-state students for more than 40 percent of enrollment -- putting institutions within their borders at high risk for losses if large numbers of students do in fact decide to enroll closer to home.

Mike Leach, Lane Kiffin expected to lobby for Mississippi flag change
Before either of them ever step foot on the home sidelines for Ole Miss or Mississippi State, Lane Kiffin and Mike Leach might first have to confront the Mississippi legislature. Kiffin and Leach plan to address the state legislature on Thursday morning. The coaches, along with Ole Miss athletic director Keith Carter and Mississippi State athletic director John Cohen, are expected to lobby the legislature about changing the Mississippi state flag to remove the emblem of the Confederate battle flag. Leach and Cohen will be joined by Mississippi State basketball coaches Ben Howland and Nikki McCray-Penson, baseball coach Chris Lemonis, softball coach Samantha Ricketts and track and field coach Chris Woods, according to a Mississippi State spokesman. According to a poll from the Mississippi Economic Council, 55% of voters support changing the flag. Just 41% of Mississippi voters polled opposed a change to the flag.
Lane Kiffin, Mike Leach to lobby for flag change at state capitol Thursday
Thursday has the potential to be a historic day at the Mississippi capitol amid the increasing pressure placed on lawmakers to change the controversial state flag. On hand to assist with the game plan in Jackson will be a large group of coaches and administrators from both Ole Miss and Mississippi State. Throughout the week, calls for the removal of Mississippi's flag have intensified. A change is supported by leadership in both the House and Senate as Speaker of the House Philip Gunn and Lt. Governor Delbert Hosemann appear to be setting the stage for the potential passage of a resolution that could suspend the rules in an attempt to remove the current flag, which carries the Confederate battle emblem. An action that caught everyone's attention in Mississippi was a pair of announcements from the SEC and the NCAA regarding the prohibition of championship events in the state until a change is made to the flag. Sports are undoubtedly akin to religion in Mississippi, and several key leaders will arrive in Jackson Thursday to make a last-minute push. Sports Illustrated's Ross Dellenger was the first to report that Lane Kiffin and Mike Leach will headline a group of representatives for their respective athletic departments.
Coaches, ADs from Mississippi's public universities to advocate for new state flag at State Capitol Thursday
Coaches and athletic leaders of Mississippi's public universities are at the state's capitol to advocate for a new state flag. Coaches, including Mississippi State University (MSU) head football coach Mike Leach and Ole Miss head football coach Lane Kiffin, are among dozens of representatives to appear Thursday. They will hold a news conference at 11 a.m. Mississippi's current state flag features a Confederate battle emblem. Debates have been hot for decades to change the flag. Outside pressure from the NCAA and the Southeastern Conference (SEC), of which MSU and Ole Miss are members, has increased the discussion. The state legislative session ends Friday.
Mississippi's Flag, the NCAA and the Battle for Change in Jackson
When the state of Mississippi last asked its voters to determine the future of its controversial state flag, Trey Lamar was but a 21-year-old walk-on running back at Ole Miss. Despite his busy fall schedule as a college football player, Lamar traveled to his local polling precinct to weigh in on a topic he felt passionately about. When he got there, he voted to keep a flag that prominently features the Confederate battle emblem. Nearly two decades later, now a grizzled representative in the Mississippi Legislature, Lamar feels much differently about that flag. "God shows you things," says Lamar, a white Republican from North Mississippi. "If half the people in the state want to get rid of it, a flag doesn't do its job." Lamar has held such feelings for years, but now many more are joining his line of thinking following an unprecedented NCAA announcement last week. The governing body of college athletics is banning Mississippi colleges from hosting postseason events until the state erases the Confederate imagery from its flag. The organization may have supplied enough ammunition to convince flag supporters to finally buckle to what many feel is the inevitable -- a changing of the flag.
Attala native Bracky Brett claims national college administrator award
An Attala County native is the recipient of a prestigious national award. Bracky Brett, execute senior associate athletic director at Mississippi State University, received the Frank Kara Leadership Award from the National Association for Athletics Compliance. It is the organization's highest award, given annually since 2010 to an athletics administrator who demonstrates leadership and vision. In his position, Brett is charged with keeping Mississippi State athletics operating within NCAA and Southeastern Conference rules and regulations. "I was very surprised, very humbled and appreciative of the recognition," he said. "It is a testament of not just me, but the compliance staff and our entire university and how we work day to day in our commitment to athletic compliance." Brett grew up in the Williamsville community of Attala County on a farm where his 91-year-old mother still lives.
USM AD Jeremy McClain talks state flag, coronavirus concerns
Jeremy McClain graduated from Delta State in 1999 -- where he played baseball. He returned to Cleveland in 2007 to serve as the Athletic Director and eventually joined Southern Miss in the same capacity in 2019. McClain has seen how the state flag pays an economic toll on Mississippi. It will continue to do so if universities like Southern Miss, Mississippi State and Ole Miss are unable to host certain sporting events and tournaments. The NCAA, Southeastern Conference and Conference USA all took a stand last week -- prohibiting all championship events in Mississippi until the Confederate emblem is removed from the flag. USM is scheduled to host the C-USA baseball tournament in 2022. In an interview with WDAM on Wednesday, McClain talked about USM's stance on the state flag (which hasn't been flown on campus since 2015), how university leaders and student-athletes can influence Mississippi lawmakers and what challenges the athletic department faces this fall amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Want a Tennessee football season? Then wear your mask, AD Phillip Fulmer says
Phillip Fulmer has some advice for fans who want to watch Tennessee football this fall: Wear a mask in the meantime. COVID-19 cases are surging in parts of the country, a fact not lost on Tennessee's athletics director. "I would encourage people to pay attention to what we're dealing with, and if you really, really want sports, football and all those things, then wear your mask and keep social distancing," Fulmer said during a Wednesday interview on Nashville radio station 104.5-FM. "I shouldn't say just football. If you want school and everything that we look at as normal to go back close to normal, we've got to fight the fight and be disciplined about this. I think some people have assumed that the worst is over, or, 'Hey, I'm not going to get it,' and it's not (over). " SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey said during a Monday interview on "The Rich Eisen Show" that he thinks the conference will know by the end of July whether the college football season will be played.
Ed Orgeron: 'We've got to wear our masks,' and LSU players 'getting the best care possible'
LSU football is "getting the best care it possibly can," coach Ed Orgeron said this week, after several players tested positive for coronavirus and more were quarantined because of possible exposure to the virus. The total number of cases began with a group of five to six players, a source said, and it originated from a gathering of friends in Baton Rouge. No players have been hospitalized and each case has shown mild symptoms. At least 30 of LSU's 115 players have been quarantined because they tested positive for COVID-19, according to Sports Illustrated, or because they had contact with a player who tested positive. Appearing on WNXX-FM in Baton Rouge, Orgeron said he believes players -- like everyone -- face the biggest risk of contracting COVID-19 when they're out in public and around other people. "We've got to wear our masks," he said.
American Athletic Conference will limit marching bands, spirit squads during football season
The American Athletic Conference has implemented a strict set of football game day guidelines for marching bands and spirit squads, a source with knowledge of the situation confirmed to The Commercial Appeal on Wednesday. The source requested anonymity because no official announcement has been made. The conference is believed to be the first in Division I to issue such a directive, as efforts to minimize coronavirus-related risks continue. The goal is to keep each school's players, coaches and staff, as well as officiating crews, healthy enough to start the college football season on time and complete it uninterrupted. The AAC declined to comment when contacted by The Commercial Appeal. AAC member institutions include Memphis, UCF, USF, Tulane, Temple, Cincinnati, East Carolina, SMU, Houston, Navy and Tulsa. The orders include: no travel to road games for any school's band or spirit squad and no on-field performance for the home team's band.
The Worst Hangover in Sports: Covid-19
Athletes have been reminded for months that returning to competition would mean changing almost everything about their lives. There would be no high-fiving, spitting or anything else that might conceivably transmit the coronavirus. But as sports leagues around the world race to get back into competition, there's one urge that young and restless athletes can't seem to shake: the itch to party. Athletes returning to their old social lives is becoming a problem in the new world of sports. The leagues and schools want players to stay in tightly controlled bubbles to avoid the risk of infection and prevent the outbreaks that would trigger another wave of lockdowns. But reopened bars and restaurants -- crowded indoor spaces conducive to spreading the virus -- have never looked so attractive to people emerging from three months of quarantine. "The issue is not the two hours at practice," said incoming UCLA athletic director Martin Jarmond. "It's the other 22 hours of the day."
John Swofford to retire as ACC commissioner after 2020-21 campaign
ACC commissioner John Swofford will retire after the 2020-21 season, the conference announced Thursday. Swofford will have served 24 years leading the ACC, the longest-tenured commissioner in league history. "It has been a privilege to be a part of the ACC for over five decades and my respect and appreciation for those associated with the league throughout its history is immeasurable," Swofford said in a statement. "Having been an ACC student-athlete, athletics director and commissioner has been an absolute honor. There are immediate challenges that face not only college athletics, but our entire country, and I will continue to do my very best to help guide the conference in these unprecedented times through the remainder of my tenure." Athletic directors were told about the decision Thursday morning before the ACC made the announcement public.

The Office of Public Affairs provides the Daily News Digest as a general information resource for Mississippi State University stakeholders.
Web links are subject to change. Submit news, questions or comments to Jim Laird.
Mississippi State University  •  Mississippi State, MS 39762  •  Main Telephone: (662) 325-2323  •   Contact: The Editor  |  The Webmaster  •   Updated: June 25, 2020Facebook Twitter