Lincoln County Board of Education members met again on Friday to discuss school operation, the instruction services remote learning plan and work from home options for employees. Both Lincoln County Schools and Lincoln Charter Schools has been closed to students since last Monday.
“We continue to get directions, sometimes daily, sometimes hourly,” LCS superintendent Dr. Lory Morrow said. “Those directions are coming to us from the Department of Public Instruction, the state superintendent and the governor’s office. We all are participating in webinars and calls in our respective areas to try to seek this additional guidance, get questions answered, problem solve and plan.”
Each department head provided an update to the board. Eric Eaker, chief of operations said that the district had received a more potent disinfectant and were cleaning according to new standards to prevent spread of COVID-19. More than 100 classified employees have been transferred to other temporary roles. According to a press release from Morrow, she has been informed by officials from DPI that local districts are granted flexibility to assign job duties and duty stations in order to keep as many employees as possible in pay status. This includes changing regular job assignments and when possible, assigning employees to work from home. If an employee is unable to work, DPI advised districts that employees must use their accrued leave.
Free breakfast and lunch to go meals were made available to all children 18 years and younger at different locations throughout the county beginning on Wednesday.
“Starting next week, we’ll do a couple of hot entrees,” Shelly Rhyne, director of child nutrition said. “We had 1,403 students our first day and were absolutely thrilled with that. On Thursday we had 1,465.”
Technology is being utilized as it never has before within the district, according to Steven Hoyle, the director of technology. For the first time ever, the district over scribed their phone system making calls out to parents, as well as maximum use of their outbound messaging and survey systems.
“I get the opportunity to serve in a unique perspective because I get to see all of the things coming and going,” he said. “It astounds me how much our teachers and instructional services have done. There’s an amazing amount of resources and information going home to students. My 15-year-old has completed the work that was assigned to him which I never thought he would do. It’s almost like he enjoyed seeing something come along to have some sense of normalcy. It’s far beyond instruction and education we’re providing.”
Hoyle and other members of the administrative staff are working towards providing more IT support and increasing capacity to meet demands as well as providing tech support.
There are approximately 2,000 students within the district who do not have reliable Internet access. A plan is in place to open up the guest network so that students can drive into the parking lot of schools to have access to the Internet.
Both Dr. Tim Beam, director of federal programs, student services and pre-school and Dr. Aaron Allen, associate superintendent have been working with community partners to organize additional support for children and their families. LCS administrative assistants have been networking with the schools to find out how many backpacks regularly go home with students. On a normal basis, 365 backpacks go home, but as of Friday, 417 were sent out. In addition, more than 100 bags of food have been sent home to vulnerable families as well. As a special bonus, Chick-Fil-A included gift certificates in the backpacks for the students and their families. Many other churches and restaurants have stepped up to help, local manufacturers are collecting food and HATS has added support with pet food.
“We’ve got a good plan for now, but we’re trying to make sure it’s sustainable,” Allen said. “Our goal is to not over tax our neighbors but to make this a long-term effort. United Way has been very helpful with coordination. We’re trying to figure out what to do with our employees. This is giving them meaningful things to do throughout the day.”
In light of schools being closed, Dr. Heath Belcher, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction has been tasked with redesigning what instruction looks like, following the direction of DPI. The course, at this time, is uncertain, Belcher cautioned.
“I think the biggest challenge in all of this is re-framing the mindset of all of us, myself included,” he said. “I’ve had to stop and say to myself, we’re not looking at the instruction piece so much as the learning activities the students are doing in our remote learning plan. It’s not about teachers providing two or four hours of instruction, but about providing opportunities for students to access learning activities that provide that instruction. First and foremost, with the maintenance of skills in mind.”
Belcher is looking into adding increased curriculums such as arts. He’s also working towards a way of tracking what learning opportunities were provided to students across the district in case the state asks to know what standards were taught during the closure as well as monitoring attendance in learning activities.
On March 15, officials with the Department of Public Instruction provided local school districts with guidance regarding employee pay and leave.
“We understand that certain staff members are unable to report to work due to health issues, child or elder care issues, or because the employee is in a high-risk category as it relates to COVID-19,” Morrow said in a press release. “These employees are not required to report to work and may use any and all available leave in order to remain in a pay status.”
At this time, DPI has not provided local school districts with the flexibility of granting emergency leave to employees, although the state has extended this type of leave to other state agencies. Emergency leave flexibility would allow the district to continue to pay an eligible employee who is unable to work without requiring the employees to use his or her accrued leave.
“It is our hope that the state will extend the flexibility of using emergency leave to local school districts in the near future,” Morrow said. “If the emergency leave flexibility is extended, Lincoln County Schools will reimburse any eligible employee any leave used during the state of emergency.”
At the meeting on Friday, the Lincoln County Board of Education voted in support of Morrow’s recommendation to provide remote work options to certain employees across the district. Beginning on March 23, various employee groups will be given the option of working from home. Direct supervisors will be communicating additional information and specific guidance to their employee groups.
“Some employees, however, will need to report to work in order to maintain the continuity of meal service and delivery as well as other essential services,” Morrow said in the press release. “If an employee who is required to report to work is unable to report to work for reasons related to COVID-19, they may choose to remain at home and take available leave. This includes employees that are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 or have been diagnosed with COVID-19, employees who have a member of their household experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 or have been diagnosed with COVID-19, employees who must stay at home to care for children or other family members, employees that are in high-risk categories or otherwise medically fragile, employees with a household member that is high risk or medically fragile, or employees who simply believe it is safer for them to stay at home at this time. Again, if emergency leave flexibility is extended to school districts, any used leave will be reimbursed to eligible employees.”
Morrow added that the health and safety of the district’s employees and students is their top priority, more now than ever. If any employee feels uncomfortable reporting to work, they are welcome to speak with their supervisor and the district will do our best to meet their individual needs.