The Lincoln County Board of Education met for their third specially called meeting in the past three weeks to discuss school operations, Department of Public Instruction updates and remote learning. All Lincoln County Schools have been closed since March 16 and the ways of serving the needs of children is constantly being updated and readapted.

Just about everyone in the county has been disrupted with schools and many other businesses being shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The board of education, LCS administrative staff and teachers are doing all they can to address the needs of their students while keeping some semblance of learning in the forefront.

LCS received supplemental funding in the amount of $412,203 from a $50 million fund directed by Gov. Roy Cooper to help public schools and support the greatest needs to serve students during the COVID-19 crisis. These funds can only be used for school nutrition, school and community-based childcare, sanitation of schools and buses, protective equipment and remote learning. 

On March 27, members of the North Carolina State Board of Education approved a new policy, Section 9.4.2 Contagious Disease Policy to Address 2020 COVID-19 Pandemic, which provides emergency leave to “employees in local education agencies, the Innovative School District, and regional schools for the period covering April 1 – April 30, 2020.” This policy designates additional leave for employees and also allows employees to do retroactive leave from March 16 – March 31. This leave act is intended to protect so-called “high risk” employees over 65 years of age, have underlying health conditions, or a weakened immune system or as identified by state or federal health authorities as high risk. Employees providing care to someone at high risk are also considered high risk employees. Employers shall provide opportunities to telework to all high-risk employees where feasible. In the event that teleworking is not feasible, the leave provisions of this policy shall apply.

LCS continues to employ classified employees such as bus drivers, teacher’s assistants and child nutrition staff to deliver meals and do other tasks. Morrow said at the meeting that she and other superintendents have been advocating for additional hazard pay for these people. More than 1,000 meals have been delivered to students to date, 53,860 meals have been served in total. Beginning on April 4, meals will be delivered on Saturday and Sunday as well as Monday through Friday.

“Our biggest struggle is finding product,” Shelly Rhyne, director of child nutrition said. “A lot of our distributors are out of things. The meals we’re providing now are completely different from what they use within the National School Lunch Program. We’re working through different avenues to source things.”

In addition to what LCS is providing, people can text FoodNC to 877877 to receive a return text of a list of sites close to them where they can receive food.

To date, LCS has received enough food from the community to make 300 bags for families which is in addition to the regular backpack deliveries. In addition, $1,530 has been received to purchase supplemental food and supplies for those families needing assistance. A minimum of 132 bags are slated to be delivered next week which is twice what was delivered last week. Burton Farm donated fresh strawberries and tomatoes on Friday and World Market in Mooresville donated Easter candy. LCS also delivered a supply of Clorox wipes and hand sanitizer to Atrium Health in Lincolnton.

“We are so thankful for the way our community is supporting us,” Dr. Tim Beam, director of federal programs, student services and pre-school said.

An update on the remoting learning front was provided by Lincoln County Schools assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction Dr. Heath Belcher. Grades for the third quarter will be available beginning on April 9 in Power School or picked up at school. When schools reopen, and Belcher is operating under the albeit optimistic date of May 18, evidences of learning can be looked at and progress, or lack thereof, can be determined for grades for the fourth quarter. 

“For seniors it’ll be different,” he said. “Because they were at a different place on the March 13th date, to keep everybody on the same page not only locally but across the entire state, whatever they were receiving on that date, they would receive that passing or failing grade.”

For example, if a student were passing a course on March 13, they’d receive a passing grade, or a ‘PC19’. If they were failing on March 13, then the remote learning should be focused on grade recovery. When schools reopen, that would be an opportunity for a student to improve the grade to passing. If the student doesn’t need the class to graduate and were failing as of March 13, they can choose to withdraw from that class. It would be coded as a WC19. 

Everything relative to seniors, their grades and graduation is still being worked through by Belcher and other administrative staff based on the information they receive from the DPI and state board.

“What I have observed during this crisis and more than at any other time during my career, is the fact that we do now have a much greater opportunity for input (from the state board) and to weigh in,” superintendent Dr. Lory Morrow said. “The two deputy superintendents and their team at DPI are really reaching out and asking the right questions, I think.”

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