LUMBERTON — All Public Schools of Robeson County grade levels can return to in-person instruction on Feb. 16, Board of Education members decided on Tuesday.
The recommendation by Superintendent Freddie Williamson to push back the date of reentry for students from pre-kindergarten to 12th grade was unanimously accepted by board members. The original plan was to have students from pre-kindergarten through third grade return to the classroom on Jan. 20.
Parents can choose whether or not to keep children in remote learning or to send them back to the classroom at that time.
When returning to the classroom, half of the students will attend in-person classes while the other half participates in remote learning on Mondays through Thursdays, with all students learning remotely every Friday.
The decision remains tentative, and could change at the Feb. 9 board meeting.
“I think in February we’ll have a better understanding,” board Vice Chairman Mike Smith said. “I just think the 16th will work good for us.”
The recommendation to delay reentry was based on COVID-19 infection trends after the holidays and the conversation concerning the virus that took place during Tuesday’s school board meeting, Williamson said.
There were 84 exposures to the virus and 52 positive cases on PSRC campuses, including the career center and Central Office, from Jan. 5 through Friday, said Stephaine Locklear, PSRC Health Services supervisor. Several employees also were said to be in the hospital for coronavirus-related illnesses.
“It’s as expected,” Locklear said.
Cases are expected to increase in the next two weeks, she said.
Educators are in the category of front-line essential workers, and those who are 50 years and older classify under Group 2 of the state’s COVID-19 vaccination schedule, Locklear said. Those workers can get access to vaccines starting Jan. 20. All other staff members will classify under Group 3. People in Group 3 who are 50 years old and younger will have access to the vaccine starting Feb. 8.
Also approved Tuesday was the option to let teachers, teacher assistants, social workers and school counselors telework beginning Jan. 19. The intention to do so must be made to school principals by Friday.
District-level employees may not work from home. Teleworking will be allowed until the February return date, but some teachers may have to come in to facilitate testing if needed.
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act was extended until March 31, said Melissa Thompson, assistant superintendent of Human Resources. Employees who have not used 80 hours of leave may do so if they are hospitalized with COVID-19 or are too sick to work.
“We just ask that if they’re COVID positive or experience symptoms, they do get that test and show us proof that the test has been taken. …,” Thompson said.
Board members were told fall semester end-of-course testing is scheduled for Jan. 25 through Jan. 28. Make-up days are Jan. 29 through Feb. 19.
A student’s final grade in a course cannot be lower than the average of the grades made at the end of both nine-weeks grading periods, said Bobby Locklear, executive director of the PSRC Testing Center.
The school system has seven Clorox 360 sanitizing machines that it will transport to schools as soon as the first COVID-19 case is reported, said Earney Hammonds, director of maintenance. Next week PSRC will begin receiving the 173 electrostatic backpack sprayers it ordered. Forty-three of the sprayers will be used to disinfect buses or areas used by athletes. Each school will have at least one sprayer.
Each school has plans in place for dealing with COVID-19 cases, with school administrators “setting the tone” for enforcement, said Robert Locklear, assistant superintendent of Curriculum, Instruction, and Accountability.
Also on Tuesday, the school board presented Quickie Manufacturing with a plaque of appreciation for its donation of cleaning supplies to every school in the PSRC system.
Board of Education members also heard about an award of a $156,000 Plasma Games grant from the N.C. Department of Commerce, Office of Science, Technology and Innovation. The grant will support the use of video games to help middle and high school students better understand chemistry.
Members also heard of an award of $29,928 as part of the FIRST STEM Equity Community Innovation Grant, funded by Disney. The grant will help expand the robotics program to engage students from pre-kindergarten to high school.
After emerging from closed session, school board members approved classified personnel, legal matters and an assistant finance officer position.
Several public comments were received and are to be posted to the PSRC website this week, School Board Chairman Craig Lowry said.
Before the meeting started, a moment of silence was observed for the late James Roy Phillips, who was an HVAC technician for the PSRC, and the late Mary McClutchen, who worked as a bookkeeper at Red Springs High School.
Reach Jessica Horne at 910-416-5165 or via email at [email protected]