LUMBERTON — Members of the Public Schools of Robeson County’s Board of Education voted 7 to 3 to send students from pre-kindergarten to eighth grade back to full in-person learning on April 12.
The vote cleared the way for all pre-kindergarten through eighth-grade students to take part in in-person learning Mondays through Thursdays, with all students learning remotely on Friday. Board members John Simmons, William Gentry and Vonta Leach cast the no votes during a meeting that lasted about 30 minutes.
Parents have until April 12 to choose an in-person or virtual learning plan for their students, said Superintendent Freddie Williamson, who made the recommendation approved by the school board.
Gordon Burnette, PSRC’s chief communications officer, called the decision a “tremendous win” for students in pre-kindergarten through grade eight.
“Our district continues to take steps towards returning to a sense of normalcy and we could not be more excited to have an increased number of students in our school buildings. It is important for our stakeholders to remember that this will change nothing about our commitment to keeping our students, teachers, and staff safe and healthy,” Burnette said in a statement.
Schools will continue to check students’ temperatures as they arrive, and efforts to keep buses and buildings clean will continue, he said.
”We also want our parents, stakeholders, and community members to know that students have the opportunity to remain in remote learning for the duration of the academic year if they so choose,” Burnette said.
The high school learning and nutrition schedule will remain in place, with students learning in an AA-BB schedule, with one group on Mondays and Tuesdays and the other on Thursdays and Fridays, and all students learning remotely on Wednesdays.
Leach said he counted about 28 school days of in-person learning left in the school year, excluding virtual learning days.
Gentry said he preferred to continue to err on the side of caution, especially so close to the end of the school year.
He is concerned about infection rates rising after the Easter holiday, as they have after other holidays, Gentry said.
“If this happens, I personally believe we are opening the door to some problems,” he said.
School Board Attorney Grady Hunt said the school board had no choice in the matter because of state law concerning students in grades pre-kindergarten through five.
Hunt was referring to Senate Bill 220, which was signed into law on March 11.
“The law says kindergarten through five, local boards of education shall provide in-person instruction under plan A, so we don’t have a choice in that matter,” Hunt said.
“The reason the reentry team chose pre-k (through) eight is because of all the various grade configurations we have. We have several schools that are pre-k eight, so it would be very confusing to have part of the school under one plan and another part of the school under a different plan,” said Erica Setzer, PSRC’s chief Finance officer.
Transportation also played a role in the decision, Superintendent Williamson said.
The school district has sent its plan of intent to return students in grades six through eight to the classroom to the state Department of Health and Human Services, he said.
Schools must submit their plans to NCDHHS, according to the Senate bill.
Desk shields will still be required in classrooms, said Bobby Locklear, executive director of PSRC’s Testing Center. He also said 4,000 more shields have been requested.
Temperature checks and symptom screenings aren’t required by the law.
“We decided as the reentry team that we are gonna continue that process,” Locklear said.
Face masks must be worn by students and staff members in schools and buses under the plan. If needed, the school district will provide masks.
Screenings will remain in place at athletic events as well, he said.
Cafeterias will remain closed, with lunches eaten in classrooms, Locklear said. A Friday meal service drive-thru option will be offered so parents can pick up meals for students who are learning remotely.
Teachers who are working remotely and have turned in paperwork concerning medical conditions that make them vulnerable to contracting COVID-19 can continue to do so, said Melissa Thompson, assistant superintendent of Human Resources at PSRC.
Some teacher’s assistants are currently substituting when needed, she said. But the school system could use more substitutes. People interested in being substitute teachers can contact PSRC’s Human Resources office.
Williamson said students continue to opt in and out of in-person learning, but estimated about 51% are learning virtually, with the remaining 49% choosing in-person learning. The numbers vary from school to school.
He commended teachers and principals for their work and commitment to PSRC students’ education.
School member Brenda Fairley-Ferebee also commended staff members across the school district for their work in the transition from virtual to in-person learning.
“I love that teamwork taking place systemwide,” she said.
Reach Jessica Horne at 910-416-5165 or via email at [email protected]