Sep. 15—LUMBERTON — Students and staff members must continue to wear masks indoors, the Public Schools of Robeson County's Board of Education decided Tuesday.
School Board members voted during a regular meeting to adopt the N.C. School Boards Association's face-covering policy. The vote did not change policies already in place, according to Gordon Burnette, PSRC's chief communications officer.
Board members mandated on Aug. 2 the wearing of masks for all students and staff members in school buildings regardless of vaccination status.
The School Boards Association's policy was adopted Tuesday after Superintendent Freddie Williamson recommended it be adopted, in accordance with state law. The county School Board will vote each month to continue the policy or end it, as COVID-19 metrics change.
According to Senate Bill 654, Section 10, "For the 2021-2022 school year, all public school units shall adopt a policy regarding the use of face coverings by employees and students. The governing body of the public school unit shall vote at least once a month on whether the face covering policy should be modified."
School safety also was discussed during Tuesday's PSRC Board of Education meeting.
"We do not have (school) resource officers assigned to every one of our schools," said Bobby Locklear, assistant superintendent of Auxiliary Services.
All five high schools have SROs and some middle schools share officers. Some middle schools within municipalities utilize officers from police departments or the Robeson County Sheriff's Office.
St. Pauls Elementary School is the only elementary school with a full-time SRO, Burnette said.
"How close are we getting in our vacancy at Lumberton Senior High School?" asked Dwayne Smith, a School Board member.
In the past three weeks, two LHS students have been suspended for a year after they were found with weapons on campus. Locklear said he would look into the vacancy.
Board members discussed the use of walk-through metal detectors. Currently, metal detector wands are used at some schools during random searches to check for weapons.
Locklear said it would take hours for students to get to classrooms while using walk-in metals detectors, with an average of 10 seconds per student.
"It's just gonna be very time consuming if that was something that we tried to employ," he added.
Williamson said walk-through metal detectors also are very sensitive.
"Hopefully we won't have to get to the point that we do have to use the metal detectors as a walk through because again, there's just a lot of issues (with them)," the superintendent said.
Random searches will pay off for the school system, he said.
Also on Tuesday, school board members emerged from closed session and voted to give classified employees a 1% supplemental pay increase, which begins in November. Also approved were salary changes including the salary of Chief Finance Officer Erica Setzer. Further details were not provided.
School Board member Terry Locklear urged fellow Board members to think about how public comments are being handled. Public comments can be submitted in an online forum, accepted into minutes of a meeting and posted on the school district's website. None are read aloud during the meetings, which continue to be held virtually.
"I would like for all of us to take an inventory of ourselves and just, you know, think about are we really doing our due diligence in that," Terry Locklear said.
"I do think that we should rethink how we are handling those," he added.
While he understands the need to continue holding virtual meetings, Terry Locklear said the same policy makers that are allowing school districts to send children and teachers back to school in face-to-face learning environments are the ones who allow meetings to remain closed to in-person attendance by the public.
Constituents and parents are the ones who "vote us in and allow us to have these seats and they're the ones that are keeping the lights on in here," he said.
In other business, Setzer told Board members that a stipend roster has been sent to principals to fill out. The stipend roster will take into account teachers who spend any amount of time teaching virtually, and pay them for their time.
Terry Locklear asked if students were in a better learning environment than they were when they were on an A/B schedule, which rotated in-person and online schooling.
The school district continues to be considered a low-performing district with 22 low-performing schools, as it was identified in the 2018-19 school year, Superintendent Williamson said.
He shared percentages without naming schools and said the performance gap to close since the 2018-19 school year is large.
"There is an urgency for that to change," Williamson said.
"That's what we're up against. That's the urgency of the hour and we can't do business the way we do business if we intend to close that gap, and we're not the only ones," he added.
School Board member Vonta Leach asked how much learning is taking place in classrooms as staff members continue performing additional cleaning measures and contact tracing efforts.
"We're doing a lot to help teachers," Williamson said.
Robert Locklear, assistant superintendent of Curriculum, Instruction and Accountability, said the instructional pacing guides put in place for teachers are very detailed and put multiple resources in one place.
Jennifer Freeman, assistant superintendent of Student Services, Intervention and Support, also shared that the school district has put $26 million in Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds toward tackling learning loss caused by COVID-19, including hiring academic coaches, interventionalists and putting the Classworks intervention program in place.
"There is a strong framework of support that we've put in place using the ESSER funding to support not only the principals, but the teachers as well, but most importantly it's to support those children," Freeman said.
Also approved on Tuesday was joining litigation involving Juul Labs, which manufactures electronic cigarettes.
Board Attorney Grady Hunt made the proposal to join, stating that if the litigation is won against the company, the school district will get a portion of the money awarded by the court. But, if it is lost, the district will not be responsible for fees.
"It's a win-win for us," Hunt said. "It's not gonna cost us anything."
Bobby Locklear said COVID-19 numbers in the school system are "trending in the right direction."
The first week of the school year saw 188 positive cases and the second 131 positives and the third 65 positives, he said.
Board members also were told of the North Carolina Instructional Leadership Academy, and PSRC's role in becoming a model that can be used across the state for training. The academy will focus on the role of principals through training within the school system over the next three years.
Also on Tuesday, Board members approved the PSRC Beginning Teacher Support Program plan, policy updates for the 5000 and 6000 section, Exceptional Children contract services, Sole Source vendors and the monthly financial report.
A moment of silence was held to honor Donald Bonner, Ardeen Hunt, Wendy Britt and Charles Jenkins, all of whom died recently.
Bonner served in various roles in the school system including as the associate superintendent of PSRC. Hunt served as a principal, coach and athletic director, among other roles. Britt was an educator. Jenkins was a provost and vice chancellor for Academic Affairs at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke.
Reach Jessica Horne at 910-416-5165 or via email at [email protected]