SMITHFIELD – The Johnston County Board of Education met for two hours Thursday night and unanimously approved Superintendent Dr. Eric Bracy’s Return to School Plan. Dr. Bracy said upon learning of Governor Roy Cooper’s decision last week that elementary schools could return to classes under Plan A he had conversations with members of the school board immediately after the announcement.
“We have a plan this evening we think we can put our students back on Plan A,” Dr. Bracy said.
Under a previously approved plan, Pre-K through 5th grade students, including Self-Contained Exceptional Children (SC EC) in grades K-12, will be allowed to return to campus for face-to-face learning on Monday, September 28th.
Under a new Plan A, kindergarten students in Cohort 1 would return to classes October 5th and 6th followed by Cohort 2 on October 8th and 9th. All kindergarten students would return to school for 5 day a week instruction beginning October 12th.
First and second grade students would transition to Plan A on October 19th. Third, fourth and fifth grade students would move to Plan A on October 26th.
Virtual learning will remain in place through the end of the first semester for parents who still want their students to learn remotely.
“What the staff and I like about this stagger is that it gives us a chance to build out our safety protocols,” Dr. Bracy said. “It will allow for us to slowly and intentionally work our way back into Plan A.”
Students in grades 6-12 will return to school under Plan B on October 19th. Cohort 1 will attend classes Monday and Tuesday. Cohort 2 will attend classes Thursday and Friday. Wednesday will be a remote learning day for all students.
JCPS Human Resources Director Brian Vetrano informed the school board there are currently 23-1/2 custodian vacancies they are trying to fill at schools across the county. Board Member Ronald Johnson said he did not want to overwhelm custodians who may have extra work and suggested hiring a cleaning company to provide temporary services until the vacancies are filled. Vetrano said many of the custodians also serve as bus drivers.
Under a prior plan, school bus drivers were to be tasked with taking students temperatures before they boarded the bus. Board member Dr. Peggy Smith said Thursday that bus drivers should not be “temperature takers” and asked that it be done at the school buildings. She said it was a safety issue for buses being stopped in the road as drivers took temperatures. Chief of Staff Dolores Gill said administrators had already changed the policy to take students temperatures on campus prior to them entering the school building.
Board Member Terri Sessoms said she had heard concerns from school staff about ventilation in school buildings and mobile classrooms. Gill said a company comes in quarterly to make sure air filters are changed. A meeting was also held recently with Cynergistics to coordinate lengthening the time HVAC units operate. Gill said principals will be updated on the protocols.
Board Member Sessoms questioned Central Office staff about a report she received from teachers who were reportedly told they would have to clean restrooms at their schools due to a shortage in custodial and janitorial staff. Mrs. Sessoms was told the information was inaccurate.
Sessoms replied that teachers are in fact being told they would have to clean toilets. “It is happening in some schools. That is not acceptable. If it is a custodial issue we need to address it,” Sessoms stated.
Superintendent Dr. Bracy stated no teacher would have to clean a school restroom and if they were asked, to notify their principal. “Teachers, hear me clearly, have a conversation with your principals.”
Students and staff will be required to wear facemasks at all times while on campus except while eating in the cafeteria. All school employees are also required to wear facemasks, however that policy isn’t being followed according to Mrs. Sessoms.
“We have people now in our buildings and people who are coming in from various departments, particularly Facility Services, who are not wearing masks and not adhering to social distancing… If adults can’t get it right how are we going to bring children in and enforce it as well?” Sessoms asked.
Gill said each time administrators hear concerns about protocols not being followed, communications are sent out reminding staff about safety policies. Gill said a retraining session was actually held on Thursday with some employees reiterating COVID 19 protocols.
Quarantines And Closing
Area Assistant Superintendent Dr. David Pearce responded to questions from the board about different scenarios that could potentially occur, including someone in a classroom having COVID symptoms or testing positive. Dr. Pearce said if a student or staff member tests positive it is reported to the Johnston County Health Department. The school system will follow their recommendation on how to respond. “It is done on a case by case basis,” Pearce stated.
Parents will be notified of all positive cases in their child’s school. He said every school building is fogged and sanitized every night. Deep cleaning of high-touch areas will continue.
Dr. Pearce said there could be scenarios where a few students will be required to quarantine, or even an entire classroom or school if someone tests positive for COVID. He said there have been cases in North Carolina where entire schools have been shut down due to a quarantine. He stressed that each situation, whether it is symptoms or a positive test, will be handed on a case by case basis and the Health Department’s recommendations will be followed.
Mr. Vetrano added that if an employee has to quarantine, there are state and federal benefits that can provide paid leave so staff will not have to use any of their sick time.
Mr. Vetrano said there have been about 375 accommodations requests from staff, including 273 who have requested to telework. He said the ability to telework will be limited to those employees who have received approval through the Human Resources Office on an approved work accommodation.
“The Human Resources Office will work with each employee who has been granted a temporary work accommodation to determine whether that accommodation will be able to continue based on the needs of the school district.”
Vetrano said principals need these employees back in the building for students. “The Human Resources Office will work with employees on a case-by-case basis for staff who want to telework to continue. The goal is to have all high-risk employees to telework but we must have a sufficient number of employees at schools.”
Dr. Pearce said Bell Times may have to be adjusted at several schools beginning October 5th until further notice. The schools include Benson Elementary, Four Oaks Elementary, Meadow Elementary, Benson Middle, Meadow Middle and Princeton Middle/High. As of Thursday nights board meeting, no bell schedule adjustments were approved. However, if the times are changed, parents will be notified.