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School will begin on August 17 for Lincoln County Schools, but it’ll look different. At the meeting of the Lincoln County Schools Board of Education held Tuesday evening, July 14, the board discussed the mechanics of operating under Plan B, which is a hybrid classroom environment. Students will be learning both face-to-face and virtually.  This plan is based on guidance received by N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper and the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.  Under this plan, schools will offer in-person and remote learning for students.  Parents will be able to request that their children be involved in only remote learning.

Administration and staff have been working diligently towards Plan B since the last board meeting on June 25. The decision was made unanimously by board members to work on Plan B rather than the other plans (100% in class – Plan A or 100% remote learning – Plan C) because it would be the more difficult plan to implement. They also agreed that it was the most likely plan that Cooper would go with.

Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Dr. Heath Belcher reviewed the district’s remote learning plan at the meeting. Because under Plan B, remote learning would be at least half of the learning for students, LCS sent out a survey to parents and teachers asking what their greatest concerns would be if school did not reopen in August and remote learning had to continue 100%. The biggest concern (44.8%) was quality of assignments, followed by amount of time spent on assignments (19.7%). For teachers, they had similar concerns, 22.3% on quality of assignments, 20.4% each for access to technology and/or reliable internet access, and amount of time spent on assignments. In addition, parents will be allowed to have their children take part in 100% remote learning.

In the survey 51% of teachers surveyed are willing to return to traditional face-to-face instruction when permissible, 36.5% are willing to participate in hybrid learning and 12.5% are willing to participate in full remote instruction.

Under Plan B, on the first day of school, the following requirements will be in place:

  • Staggered entry of students the first two weeks of school, August 17-28.
  • Limited number of students in facilities to no greater than 50% occupancy beginning August 31.
  • Cloth face coverings are required for all kindergarten through 12th grade students in school and on buses, and for all teachers, adult school staff and visitors. When students are able to social distance, masks will not be required.
  • Conduct symptom screening, including temperature checks.
  • Establish a process and dedicated space for people who are ill to isolate and have transportation plans for ill students.
  • Require frequent handwashing throughout the day with hand sanitizer being provided by the district.
  • Limited student density on bus transportation to 24 students.
  • Limit the number of nonessential visitors and activities involving external groups.
  • Ensure sufficient social distancing with at least six feet between people at all times.
  • Enhanced health protocols for all students and staff.
  • Clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces in schools and on transportation vehicles regularly
  • Discontinue use of self-service food or beverage distribution.  All meals will be eaten in the classrooms. 
  • Discontinue activities that bring together large groups of students.  
  • Remote Learning options will be provided to students who are at high-risk for severe disease due to COVID-19, or whose family members are at high-risk.  

Schools will be checking out Chromebooks to students in grades 3-12 to help ensure student access to remote instruction.  Students will stagger re-entry the first two weeks of school by attending one day per week. The staggered entry the first two weeks will reduce student density to a level that maximizes student safety while principals monitor the enhanced protocols that will be in place.  During the two weeks of staggered entry, classroom teachers will focus on teaching students appropriate procedures for social distancing when on campus and will prepare students for learning in a hybrid classroom. 

In preparation for staggered entry and reopening of schools, classroom teachers will schedule a back-to-school orientation for individual students and their parents the week of August 10-14.  

Beginning August 31, students in grades K-12 will be on campus two consecutive days per week and remote learning the other three days per week. One group of students will attend on Monday, Tuesday and a second group will attend on Thursday, Friday. Wednesday will be used for personalized learning appointments with students and for deep cleaning of classrooms. Transportation will be offered each day that students are on campus.

The district will communicate with parents and guardians with future details about classroom arrangements. Additional surveys and questionnaires will also be sent out regarding the intentions of parents for their children return to school under Plan B or if they have a desire to have their children participate in an all virtual learning opportunity within their child’s current school. 

During the public comment session, Lincoln County Board of Commissioners Vice Chair Richard Permenter addressed the board of education. He opened his comments saying that unless he stated otherwise, he was here to give the opinion of one county commissioner. Permenter’s term expires December 2020. He is not running for re-election.

“I believe the functional relationship between the board of education and the board of commissioners is severely damaged to the point that it’s about to be gone,” he said. “My comments are based on my experiences over the past three years and much more recent experiences. A lot of this is due to our respective roles which are defined by the legislator and they’re very basic and simple. The board of commissioners is responsible for funding education. The school board establishes a solid plan for educating students and your board has to convince our board that the money you want is part of that plan and it all works.”

As elected officials, he added, it may be irritating for you to have to do this, but that’s the way it is. The board of commissioners is responsible to the taxpayers and spending their money wisely, not the board of education. 

“As a board, I believe you have either explicitly or implicitly put out the false message that the board of commissioners isn’t supporting education in Lincoln County,” he said. “Whether you’ve done this collectively or not, by action or inaction, your board has misled both the educators and the public. We have never ever shown anything but strong support for the schools.”

The budget for schools has steadily increased at a rate greater than inflation, Permenter said. He further detailed items that the board of commissioners has supported in past budgets and that they’ve never knowingly approved a budget that would reduce instructional staff in the schools or their necessary materials, including this year.

“We pledged publicly to revisit this year’s school budget as soon as we possibly could,” he said. “We said very strongly, we will not let you fall. In spite of that pledge of support, at a fundamental level, the board of education seems to foster the view by the public and teachers that each year it’s a struggle to get what’s needed.”

Most recently, Permenter added, the board has fostered that this budget will result in a loss of teachers, aides and instructional materials. He also alleged that the budgets that the board of education has presented over the years show a lack of planning.

“There’s no reason for that to happen unless you decide they’re not a high priority,” he said. “Remember we pay the money, you assign the priorities.  On top of all of this, you’ve managed to lose or run off a school superintendent (Dr. Lory Morrow) that’s viewed collectively by the educators in the county and the board of commissioners as the breath of fresh air necessary to move this county forward and one that we hoped would lead us further.”

Finally, Permenter added, each of the members of the board ran for office and are entitled for respect and each of them care, but as a commissioner, he lacks confidence in the board’s collective competence as a governing body to direct the school system.

“Where this goes from here,” he said. “Up to you.” 

Fred Jarret also spoke about reintroducing a post education effectiveness evaluation for Lincoln County Schools.

Also at the board meeting, it was voted to postpone to postpone the Class of 2020 modified traditional graduation ceremony for each of four traditional high schools until at least winter break. More information will be forthcoming in future months. These modified traditional graduation ceremonies were originally scheduled for July 31 and August 1. In addition, all facility usage of schools will continue to be suspended through Aug. 31.

Lincoln County Public Education Foundation Grant recipients were announced at the meeting. Each recipient received a grant in the amount of $8,000.

  • East Lincoln Middle School – “Motivating Markers with 3D Printing” – Maria Hipp, Ellen Lail and Heather Spicola
  • Lincolnton High School – “Career Pathways for Reading Success” – Lily Gibby-Gates and Regina Hovis
  • Lincolnton Middle School – “iKingdom: Empowering Students and Awakening a Passion for History through Technology” – Angela Johnson and Hannah Tibbs
  • North Lincoln High School – “Make us Makers / Designing a Maker Space” – Alex Pedersen

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