At a lengthy combined committee and regular meeting of the Lincoln County Schools Board of Education held last week, an update was provided by Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Dr. Heath Belcher on the progress of transitioning elementary school students from Plan B to Plan A. On Oct. 19, Lincoln County Schools elementary students will be attending school five days a week. In order for students to stay in virtual learning, their parents had to submit remote learning request forms which were due on Oct. 9. According to Belcher, some parents submitted paperwork late. Their requests were not approved and all remote learning classes are at full capacity. In first quarter, there were 1,157 elementary school students on Plan C. This number has been reduced to 300. 

The district has hired 17 remote learning facilitators, all of whom are certified teachers, according to board member Cathy Davis, to continue to deliver remote learning instruction to students. 

Tracy Eley, principal at Battleground Elementary spoke to the board about their experiences in transitioning students to Plan A. Battleground has already transitioned to four days a week. One of the issues they have is longer car rider lines because of temperature and health checks. They also had to add an additional bus route to accommodate social distancing. Battleground has smaller class sizes than some of the other elementary schools so social distancing has not been difficult as it may be for other schools. Three feet of social distancing is what the Lincoln County Health Department has recommended that LCS use as a guideline to help with contact tracing. 

Except for a few hiccups with rider lines, lunches and spaces, elementary school principals have reported the transition has been smooth, according to Interim Superintendent Dr. Aaron Allen           

Rusty Saine, LCS director of accountability gave the board an update as to COVID numbers. There have been 34 positive cases across the district in the elementary schools since Aug. 17. Eighteen elementary level staff members have tested positive. 

There have been 39 K-5 withdrawals from LCS for homeschool purposes, 20 of those in the last three weeks, according to Belcher. For K-12 for the entire school year, there have been 185 withdrawals.

At the regular board meeting, three individuals signed up for public comment, Stacy Pattison, Tracey Baker and Tricia McCabe.

Pattison was disturbed that the board voted to eliminate remote learning without a medical justification. She said that in her experience, students were receiving a high-quality remote learning experience and that they were thriving. She didn’t think that would be the same with asynchronous pre-recorded lessons and assignments from a remoting learning facilitator which is how the district is planning on continuing remote learning. She didn’t think that it was safe to send children back to school given there has been an uptick in cases in Lincoln County and the ensuing flu season. She asked for five new safety measures – 

  • banning exhalation valves or vents in masks, 
  • banning gaiters and all other single layer face coverings, 
  • enforcing the requirements that face coverings fully cover the nose and mouth at all times,
  • investing in desk shields for all students, 
  • improving the poor ventilation in all classrooms.

Baker, who has a son attending St. James Elementary School who is at high risk due to asthma, said that he was afraid to go to school. She wanted to tell him that everything would be okay, but she couldn’t lie to him. She also said that she’s received three recorded phone calls this week about positive COVID cases at his school. She didn’t feel like that the version of Plan C being offered was sufficient because her son was behind in math and reading. She thought that the CARES Act funding should be enough to hire additional teachers to keep Plan C going as it was or use the teachers who cannot return to in person teaching due to COVID-19. She also asked that the district continue using Wednesdays for deep cleaning.  

McCabe agreed that in person learning was critical for elementary school aged students, but she was still afraid to send her child to school. She was left without an option to continue remote learning. She stated that information about COVID-19 was ever evolving and that there was not enough information about long-term effects of the virus. She questioned not following the CDC requirements of six feet of spacing.

Board member Joan Avery, who voted against the transition to Plan A at the last meeting, commented that she’s received several hundred phone calls and emails since the last board meeting. The bulk of the requests that she’s received have been to leave in-person learning at four days, leaving one day for deep cleaning and for EC teachers to work with their students. She stated that other counties were sending out surveys to parents so that they could voice their concerns about Plan B or C and she hoped Lincoln County could do that. She also quoted the increase in Lincoln County cases and keeping a six-foot separation as recommended by the CDC.

Allen reported on a survey that was sent out to stakeholders within the community about their opinions of Lincoln County Schools. Some of the positive comments included hard working and loyal employees who feel valued, the district is a partner within the community and it’s a safe place for children, that the district has embraced challenges, the district has a family feel, community pride, is service minded, known for their bands and athletic programs. 

Areas of improvement include 

  • Internal communication between the board and central services as well as external communication with county commissioners. 
  • Have more budgetary conversations within LCS and the schools as well as the board of commissioners throughout the year. 
  • School staff want more visibility from central services staff and board members within school buildings. 
  • When making significant decisions, consult with those closest to the work before making decisions that impact the district as a whole.
  • Improve infrastructure of technology and continue to be progressive with opportunities.

The board approved that that visitors be permitted on school campus to conduct extra-curricular activities with students beginning Oct. 15 as well as post-secondary recruiters in schools during school hours for seniors. The return to play plan for middle school sports was approved and that visitors will be allowed to attend outdoor events while practicing social distancing and to continue the limiting of nonessential visitors and activities involving external groups or organizations inside of school facilities through Nov. 15. School trips will be suspended for the second nine weeks of the 2020-2021 school year.

Two special presentations were made. The first to recognize Rexana Rhoney, an English as a Second Language teacher at Norris S. Childers, North Brook and Union elementary schools as the recipient of the Dollar General Literacy Foundation grant in the amount of $3,800. Tracy Eley, principal of Battleground Elementary School was recognized as the 2020 Wells Fargo Principal of the Year for Lincoln County Schools. Eley began her teaching career at S. Ray Lowder Elementary School in Lincolnton in 2003. When they opened F.D. Jack Kiser Intermediate, Eley transferred there as a teacher and then became assistant principal at West Lincoln Middle for four years before becoming the principal at Battleground. During Eley’s principalship at Battleground, the school went from being a K-3 school to K-5 at the newly configured building that was formerly Kiser Intermediate.

The next regularly scheduled board of education meeting will be a combined meeting again to be held on Nov. 10 due to Nov. 3 being election day.

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