Due to COVID-19 we had updates from the following Directors:
Feeding Programs was presented by Mr. Marty Johnson. Meal Service began March 17, 2020 with breakfast and lunch service in a drive through set up at twenty locations. Due to staffing, some locations may be combined. Principals and building staff have created Community Stops utilizing yellow bus transportation and school vehicles to deliver meal service in needy areas throughout our county. At lunch service each day, lunch for the current day and breakfast for the next day is available for children between one and eighteen. The breakfast car line participation was created to help families who may not have received a lunch the previous day, however, due to low participation in the community, this will end on April 9, 2020. Families will still receive lunch for the current and breakfast for the next day at the lunch service. We will not operate on Friday, April 10th, however, meal service will be provided on Thursday for Friday breakfast and lunch along with Monday breakfast for the 13th. We will operate Spring Break Week. The total meals served March 17th through April 6th was 153,098. This total includes breakfast and lunch. On behalf of the Child Nutrition Department, Mr. Marty Johnson thanked everyone for their support during this time.
Employee Options were presented by Assistant Superintendent Dr. Westley Wood in regards to personnel matters and employee options as they relate to COVID-19 and the closure of schools in North Carolina. Dr. Wood thanked all of our administrators as they have been patient and flexible as we navigated through the past several weeks of information that at times has changed daily. In regards, to decisions around personnel, the actions that Wilkes County Schools has taken has come in three phases:
Phase 1 began with Governor Cooper’s Executive Order to close schools due to COVID-19. Due to this decision, March 16th became a required teacher workday which will be taken from March 27th. This required workday allowed additional planning, communication, and correspondence with NCDPI and others to begin. March 16th became a “No Day” for Teacher Assistants that was taken from March 20th. All other employees followed normal procedures for a Required Teacher Workday. On the afternoon of March 16th, additional communication was provided to all employees in regards to expectations for March 17th-20th. March 17th-20th became Optional Teacher Workdays for certified staff in which they could work or take available leave. These days became regular workdays for non-certified staff, however, employees could take leave if they wished. Guidance from the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction allowed flexibility of job duties in relationship to the funding source. This allowed all employees the ability to work with the understanding that duties could be altered to fit the needs of the school to maintain employment.
Phase 2 began on Monday, March 23rd in an effort to begin to reduce the amount of interactions between staff as it related to guidance coming from NCDPI and Governor Cooper. Beginning on March 23rd, employees who directly served students in instructional duties were allowed to work remotely at home with provided expectations. Employees who could not work from home were allowed to take appropriate leave if they preferred not to work during this time. On the afternoon of March 27th, the North Carolina State Board of Education passed a policy regarding State of Emergency Sick Leave that would begin on April 1 with an end date of April 30 unless extended by the State Board. April 1st began the current phase or operational procedures we are following. March 29th and 30th were spent communicating to principals, directors, and bookkeepers about specifics of the policy. To summarize the policy, it allows for up to 168 hours of emergency sick leave to be provided to employees for the month of April (prorated for employees who work less than 40 hours per week). The leave can be granted to the following:
1) High Risk Employees:
- Employees 65 years or older; having underlying health conditions; or weakened immune system or as identified by state or federal health officials as high risk.
- Employees providing care to someone at high risk.
- Telework if feasible. If not, emergency sick leave should be used.
2) Employees who cannot work due to childcare or needs related to COVID-19
- Employee may work from home if feasible. If not emergency leave can be used.
3) Employees who are sick due to symptoms consistent with the virus, employees caring for someone who has symptoms of the virus, or employees who have been advised by their health care provider to self-quarantine.
The policy also provided an additional 96 hours of emergency sick leave to employees for the dates of March 16th-March 31st for employees who may have met the previous criteria.
During this phase, work from home to the greatest extent possible has been encouraged. Administrators and directors have worked to identify employees that have duties that are considered mandatory in relation to operational needs across the district. In order to lessen the number of employees at sites, employee schedules may have been altered or employee work hours reduced in a way that still meets operational needs. Hours not worked due to an altered schedule or reduced hours can be accounted for through the use of emergency sick leave. This leave has no negative effect on employees. The State Board policy mimics the Federal Family First Act and the expansion of FMLA, however is in addition to the Federal benefits.
Technology update was presented by Chief Technology Officer Mrs. Julie Triplett. Our schools have reached out to students and parents to determine how many students have Internet access at home. Approximately 80% reported they have home Internet. Some are using cell phones with limited data plans, which may limit how long they can be online. In our elementary schools, around 40% of students are doing online learning. Approximately 60% of parents have requested paper/pencil packets for students. We know that some of these students are also completing select assignments online. About 50% of our middle school students have checked out their computers for home use. All of our high school students have their devices for home use. We have encouraged our teachers to continue to use the tools they know and our students have used throughout the year during this time. Teachers are relying heavily on Google Classroom, Class DoJo, and Canvas, since these are the platforms they have consistently used with students. To support teachers and online learning, our digital learning facilitators are available by phone and email. They are holding virtual office hours to support teachers. This morning about 40 teachers took advantage of this opportunity. They have also scheduled online training opportunities for teachers to continue professional development. Our technicians are providing telephone and email support to students and staff for technical needs. We continue to support our students and staff during this time of remote learning.