Tuesday, 12 January 2021 20:09

Richmond County Schools tentatively slated to reopen Feb. 1

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Richmond County Health Director Dr. Tommy Jarrell addresses the Richmond County Board of Education during a Jan. 12 meeting. Richmond County Health Director Dr. Tommy Jarrell addresses the Richmond County Board of Education during a Jan. 12 meeting. William R. Toler - Richmond Observer

HAMLET — Richmond County students are tentatively scheduled to return to classes the first week of February.

Of course, that all depends on how widespread COVID-19 is in the county within the next two weeks.

Health and Human Services Director Dr. Tommy Jarrell told the Richmond County Board of Education on Tuesday that he doesn’t expect to see recent high numbers drop for the next couple of weeks.

Last month, the school board voted to return to remote learning through Jan. 29.

According to Dr. Kate Smith, executive director of curriculum and learning, all students in Kindergarten through fifth grade have received a laptop or iPad for remote learning, which were picked up Jan. 5.

Parents can drop off the devices for repair at the Annex and those in Ellerbe can meet with a technician at Ellerbe Middle or Mineral Springs Elementary.

The school system has also provided 600 hot spots with 175 more on the way, said. However, she added that there are “a handful” of students who are not able to use the hot spots because of their location.

Students who are not using the virtual platform still have access to offline learning, including workbooks and daily packet activities, with “check-ins” so students, parents and teachers can monitor the students’ learning, Smith said.

The district has continued to provide breakfast and lunch to students during virtual learning, Smith added, delivering an average of 2,450 meals per day in addition to 60-80 meals at feeding sites. She encourages parents to download the Where’s My Bus app to track for meal delivery and pick-up and drop-offs when students are back in school.

If students go back on Feb. 1, Smith said high school students requiring state-mandated face-to-face final exams will take them the first week. Drivers Ed tests will also be that week and the following week.

Smith said that regional superintendents have requested that the N.C. State Board of Education waive the 20% rule for end-of-course tests, but the policy change has not yet been approved.

During Tuesday’s meeting, board member Ronald Tillman expressed to Jarrell his concern about the recent increase in cases among school-aged children.

From Dec. 1-10, the number of children 18 years old and younger who have tested positive rose from 286 to 321, according to the Richmond County Health Department. Since the schools were closed on Dec. 14, 129 children have tested positive.

Jarrell said the county has seen a significant increase among all age groups.

As of Dec. 10, Richmond County Schools recorded 193 school-related cases since it began keeping track earlier this year: 50 school staff; nine from central services; 39 traditional (in-class) students; and 95 virtual students.

The Carolina Journal reported Monday that researchers from Duke University and UNC-Chapel Hill found that transmission of the coronavirus at schools was “extremely limited.”

Jarrell said the Health Department looks more at how age groups are affected once contracting the virus, adding that the older population has a more difficult time than those who are younger.

Children, who tend to be healthier, don’t have as many challenges.

Jarrell pointed to the hospitalizations, saying most of those are older adults.

Tillman recalled that earlier on during the pandemic, the youngest age group had the fewest number of positive cases.

“I’m not sure all adolescents, consistently, are practicing best behaviors” including social distancing, hand washing and wearing masks, Jarrell said. “When they’re getting in groups with other adolescents, it’s a little easier to spread if one person has it.”

As for vaccinations, K-12 school employees 50 years old or older are considered essential employees and are currently slated to be in the next group of vaccine recipients, though Jarrell said the state’s guidelines could change this week.

Superintendent Dr. Jeff Maples said a decision would be made around Jan. 24.


Richmond County Schools Public Information Officer Jasmine Hager presented this month’s Inspiring Excellence Awards, which went to Randy Gurerry, bookkeeper Stephanie Tucker and bus driver Tina Lee, all of Rockingham Middle.

Hager also detailed recent local recipients of Pee Dee Electric’s Bright Ideas grant program: Rhonda Jenkins, Jill Buck and Whitney Smith. The awards were announced in November.

Beginning Teacher Coordinator Talia Swinney applauded the work by 4-H Agent Catherine Shelly — a former teacher — and her work with elementary students with several education programs:

Second-grade Embryonic Program, where students are able to see chicks hatch from eggs

Third-grade Health and Nutrition Program, allowing students to be exposed to different foods they might not otherwise try

Fifth-grade Science Adventures, where students take a field trip to Millstone 4-H Camp in Ellerbe

The Embryonic Program at East Rockingham Elementary was featured in the fall edition of the quarterly 4-H magazine.

“She’s done an amazing job working with our district and our teachers,” Swinney said of Shelly. 

Richmond Early College High School also was recently awarded a certificate of achievement from the state for having a 100% graduation rate.

The board also voted to approve budget amendments and adopt policies introduced late last year.

School Board members Jerry Ethridge and Daryl Mason were not at the meeting and chairman Wiley Mabe joined remotely. Vice Chair Bobbie Sue Ormsby presided over the meeting.

(Note: This story has been edited to correct a date. 10:15 p.m. 1-12-21)

Last modified on Tuesday, 12 January 2021 22:16