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Construction Workers Critical to Oxford Schools’ Fall Plan

Story contributed by DeAndria Turner
Broadcast journalism student

The COVID-19 pandemic has slowed life down for millions of Mississippians, but not for many construction workers. Like medical professionals and grocery workers, they’ve been deemed “essential” by the state.

On the Central Elementary School site in Oxford, workers like Lenoard Woodall continue to shimmy up ladders and tote beams to and fro.

“It can be unnerving knowing that I can become sick. I can take it home to somebody else or spread it to someone else and not even know that I’m a carrier,” Woodall said.

His wife Stacey works with him and feels the same way.

“Sometimes I feel uneasy about being out here,” said Stacey Woodall.

However, for them, work has to continue.

“The building trades have to go on. We have contracts to fulfill so we have to work,” said Leonard.

The new elementary school is critical to the Oxford district’s plan to start classes on time in the fall.

“If there’s a prolonged shutdown, yes it will impact construction, which will impact instruction in the fall,” OSD Superintendent Brian Harvey said.

Oxford schools are set to start on Aug. 10. Harvey says the district needs the new elementary school open to make that plan work, otherwise, they may have to revise the calendar, potentially delaying the first day of school, perhaps by as much as two weeks.

“Another option would be to take the three days that we have in Thanksgiving break — Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday — and these are things I haven’t discussed with our board, yet, and ultimately they determine the beginning and end date of school,” Harvey said, “but the other option would be to move those three days to either around Labor Day or our fall break and that would allow us to move into the new building.”

Harvey says that would give the district time to get everything that’s moving out of Bramlett Elementary set up in the new school if there is a significant construction delay.

For now, the Woodalls are taking precautions at the end of each day to make sure they and the people around them stay healthy.

“Whatever I have on I leave outside in my garage. Strip basically. Not take it inside,” said Leonard. Since he is a supervisor on the construction site, he’s also concerned about keeping all of his workers safe.

“Try to keep the guys separated where I don’t have groups of guys congregating and talking all the time,” he said.

Yet, despite all of the care he’s taking and worry he’s facing, he says he’s grateful to have a job.

“It takes some of the added stress away from me knowing that I do have a job I can come to every day and still maintain,” said Leonard. “But, yet, in the back of my mind, I still feel like I should watch who I’m around. Keep my safe distance.”

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