By Carol Vaughn —
The Northampton County School Board met in person on April 9, but also aired the meeting via Zoom, an electronic conferencing app, using the microphone of School Superintendent Eddie Lawrence’s computer in the room.
Video was turned off, for the most part, during the meeting, and audio was of poor quality for much of the time.
The chat function also was turned off partway through the meeting, after several members of the public made comments.
Seventeen participants were listed as being in the electronic conference as it started.
Schools in Virginia are closed for the rest of the school year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, by executive order of Gov. Ralph Northam. An executive order also prohibits physical gatherings of more than 10 people.
Lawrence told the school board he and Associate Superintendent Christine Hill plan to meet later in April with school principals to begin work on a COVID-19 recovery plan.
“Once we get to the other side of this crisis, there’s going to be an awful lot of instructional issues and operational issues that we are going to have to deal with,” Lawrence said.
Lawrence noted he sent two nearly identical letters on April 6, one to staff and the other to parents, with updates on plans for the remainder of the school year.
The letters, in part, reminded staff and parents that schools were on spring break April 13 to 17, “to provide a break to all our employees who have been working tirelessly.”
No meals were to be provided by schools during the break.
Meal service resumes April 21.
The letters gave information about foodbank food distributions for the week.
The letters also said the district in the previous week “transitioned to a more robust instruction model encompassing new learning.”
Parents may pick up learning materials from their child’s school at a drive-up loop on Tuesdays and Thursdays, from 8 a.m. to noon.
Completed assignments may be dropped off at a drop box in front of the school.
Additionally, links to lessons, for those with internet access, are at https://sites.google.com/ncpsk12.com/covid19site/home
Teachers are available to email or telephone to address questions about instructional materials.
A schedule of teacher availability is posted at https://sites.google.com/ncpsk12.com/covid19site/home
School Board Chairwoman Maxine Rasmussen said the schools’ technology department, in trying to contact families, found “a significant number of families where we don’t have the correct phone number.”
She suggested asking for the sheriff’s office help finding those families.
Lawrence said many of the families are coming to get school-provided meals and are being found that way. Health clinics also may have more up-to-date contact information, he said.
“We are going to do everything we can to locate every child we can,” he said.
A discussion about provisional licenses for teachers ensued.
Melinda Phillips, human resources director of administrative services, told the board she provides teachers who are hired without having a license information about the approximately 12 steps necessary to obtain a license and continues to work with them.
The state Department of Education determines whether each employee may be issued a provisional license.
If an employee does not meet the requirements, the person is then “turned into a long-term sub(stitute teacher),” Phillips said.
“The bottom line is, we can’t have teachers teaching without a teaching license. It’s the law,” she said.
“Ultimately we are not making the decision,” said Rasmussen. She asked how often the situation happens that a hire does not meet requirements to be issued a provisional license, and therefore has to be deemed a long-term substitute.
It happened twice this year, Phillips said.
“What we are doing is, we are hiring them, and then, if they don’t meet the requirements, then we’re changing their status — and, as a result, they are losing their benefits and all the other things that they obtained through the teacher status,” school board member Charlena Jones said, recommending instead hiring those people as a long-term substitute at first, and then, if they obtain their license, changing their status to teacher, “and they gain their benefits, as opposed to losing their benefits.”
“We’ve never looked at it that way,” Phillips said, adding it could make it more difficult to hire teachers if done that way.
“I won’t be able to get teachers in the classroom if all I am bringing to the table is $125 a day (the pay for a long-term substitute),” she said, adding the way it is done now “is a practice across the commonwealth.”
Jones said new hires without a license should be informed up front that their jobs could become long-term substitute positions if they do not meet licensing requirements.
“What’s happening as result of the current crisis is that we’re facing anxiety and uncertainly of those whose status is being changed,” she said.
Rasmussen recommended adding the information to contracts signed by new hires.
No vote was taken.
The school board, in other action, voted to send a letter of support to Barbara Haynes, who proposes to build a handicap-useable playground in both Accomack and Northampton counties and is planning to approach Parks and Recreation departments in both counties about the project before she works on fundraising plans.
Haynes asked for the number of students in the district, who have physical or developmental handicaps, who could benefit from the project.