Trinity Episcopal makes donations | Robesonian

Trinity Episcopal makes donations | Robesonian

LUMBERTON —The Public Schools of Robeson County’s Board of Education approved Tuesday a virtual instruction plan that seeks to limit the amount of students online and send most students back to the classroom in the fall.

The virtual instruction plan, which was approved unanimously during a recessed meeting on Tuesday, allows qualifying students from grades four through 12 to participate in virtual learning if approved by the principal and school district office. PSRC will only allow 10% of student populations at each school to learn virtually.

PSRC School Board Chairman Craig Lowry said the “bottom line” is to get students back into classrooms where they learn best.

Students who learn virtually must follow the same schedule as students who learn in person. They must have attained an 80% passing rate during the 2020-21 school year and maintain an average of 80% in all subject areas to continue learning online in the fall semester. Adults must be present for students in grades four and five during instruction and a reliable internet service must be available to students.

Students with certain medical conditions can also qualify.

Applications must be submitted by parents to schools by June 9.

“It is our intent to return to Primetime before and after school care,” said PSRC Superintendent Freddie Williamson. “It is our hope that we will return five days a week to in-person teaching and learning.”

Also on Tuesday, school board members approved paying a one-time $1,000 stipend to full-time classified and certified employees because of added duties related to COVID-19 safety protocols and added work duties. The payment will be issued June 24. PSRC Chief Finance Officer Erica Setzer said employees can contact her by email with any questions related to eligibility or more information.

“This is the first time in history that I know of that we’ve been able to do something like this,” Lowry said.

Beginning teacher bonuses were also given to 25 employees who began teaching through the lateral entry pathway. More details on the bonuses were not provided.

Board members were also told by Jennifer Freeman, assistant superintendent of Student Services, Intervention and Support, that PSRC was approved for Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund II and III. The funding will help address needs such as software, interventionists, academic coaches, air purifiers, HVAC units, renovations and more.

Sandra Evans, kindergarten through grade 8 curriculum supervisor, said the N.C. Department of Public Instruction’s Office of Learning Recovery approved the plans for PSRC’s Summer Learning and Enrichment Camp in June. The six-week credit recovery and learning program seeks to help engage students and help them recover learning loss from impacts by COVID-19.

“We hope to build confidence and a positive attitude for students due to the lack of social interaction,” Evans said.

Setzer said the summer program, which cost about $10.2 million, will be paid for through ESSER funds.

According to data gathered from principals, a total of 11,437 students chose to remain virtual during the 2020-21 school year, said Zach Jones, kindergarten through grade 2 Literacy specialist. That number represents 52% of the PSRC student population.

“It’s very important that we get those students back face-to-face learning this summer,” Jones said.

He also shared that only 16.9% of students were online 76% to 100% of the time and 739 did not participate virtually as instructed.

“It’s an issue that we got 739 lost students, lost instruction, lost for a year,” said School Board Member Linda Emanuel. “That’s sad.”

Bobby Locklear, executive director of Testing and Accountability, said the number is fluid and some high school students have returned to take tests at schools.

“We expect that number to drop dramatically,” Locklear said.

Jones also said 245 high school seniors are not on track to graduate June 4, but 228 seniors will be eligible for summer graduation if they attend the summer learning program.

“We close the gap tremendously if the students are able to attend,” Jones said.

Locklear also said some students might turn in previous late assignments, and those numbers could be impacted as well.

After some debate, school board members agreed to comply with the board’s procedures and guidelines of only allowing graduating seniors to wear honor cords to commencement issued to them by schools. Superintendent Williamson retracted his leniency on the policy, at the will of board members.

Williamson has the authority to approve requests according to the guidelines, said Grady Hunt, the board’s attorney.

The superintendent said the current guidelines are to celebrate student achievement and that sashes can be requested to be worn. He said he had not received any requests to deny the wearing of cords as of Tuesday.

“Our Board of Education Policy Committee will have to meet and draft a new policy concerning graduation cords that will be put forth to the entire board for approval in the future,” said Gordon Burnette, PSRC’s Chief Communications Officer.

School Board Member Randy Lawson said he has received calls about cords to be worn at graduation, and asked board members what they thought. Lawson said if one group can wear cords, other groups should be able to as well.

“If we’re gonna change this, it needs to be a board decision,” Lawson said.

Fairley-Ferebee said the issue was addressed in 2004 and the decision was made not to allow cords to be worn from outside organizations.

Board Member Vonta Leach said it was too late, with graduation around the corner, to make a decision.

Lowry said his five years on the board did not render conversations about cords. He also mentioned that cords were given out by the Lumbee Tribe for some students this year.

Hunt said the guidelines speak to school and community recognition, where the cords might fall. However, Williamson’s decision stood.

“We will try to draft a policy and move forward,” Williamson said.

Also approved was entering into another 3-year contract with Serenic Financial Software. PSRC was in a contract with the company, and funding from the state to upgrade the financial system did not come through yet, Setzer said.

Updating the software to a more modern system would cost more than $1 million, which PSRC can’t afford, she said. And the company agreed to restructure the contract.

“This new contract would save us about $10,000 a year,” Setzer said.

The school board also approved a mental health plan, that seeks to give students and staff mental health support and services for the 2021-22 school year.

Jerome Hunt, PSRC Athletic Director, also gave updates on athletics in the summer and fall.

Hunt said fall sports should return to normal, according to a current update from the N.C. High School Athletic Association. Fall practices begin on Aug. 2.

Summer camps and workouts will resume. The weeks of July 5 and 19 will not include sports activities. He also said athletes are encouraged to get vaccinated.

If an athlete is vaccinated and is exposed to COVID-19, they will not be required to quarantine, he said.

At the start of the meeting, a moment of silence was observed by the school board for Long Branch Elementary School Teacher Assistant Lindsey Britt, who died in a car crash this past Saturday.

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