LUMBERTON — As other county public schools reopen Monday for in-person instruction, one high school will remain closed because of COVID-19 outbreaks.
“At St. Pauls High School there are currently six staff members that have tested positive for COVID-19 and nine staff members that have been determined to be exposed to COVID-19 through contact tracing methods. There are currently six students that have tested positive for COVID-19 and 65 students that have been determined to be exposed to COVID-19 through contact tracing methods. The boys and girls varsity basketball teams have been quarantined, as well as the varsity football team,” said Gordon Burnette, spokesman for the Public Schools of Robeson County.
March 8 is the tentative date for the reopening of the school.
Clorox 360 sanitizing machines were dispatched to the high school to clean the area, along with other resources, Burnette said. The school was sanitized Friday and will continue to undergo sanitation measures in the days ahead.
“PSRC officials have been in close contact with the Robeson County Health Department, and our response efforts have fallen within their guidelines and protocols,” he said.
All St. Pauls High School employees have been placed on a telework schedule in response to the outbreaks.
“Our superintendent, Board of Education, and SPHS Principal Jason Suggs will revisit the situation with health officials to determine if the return of students needs to be extended,” Burnette said.
“We want all of our St. Pauls High School community members to know we are doing everything we can to ensure the safe return of students and staff members to the school building,” he added.
All PSRC schools were to return to in-person instruction Monday, with students in kindergarten through eighth grade to operate on an alternating A/B schedule. The schedule allows half of the students to attend in-person classes while the other half participates in remote learning on Mondays through Thursdays, with all students learning remotely every Friday.
Students in grades nine through 12 were to operate on an AA-BB schedule, with the AA group attending in person on Mondays and Tuesdays and the BB group attending on Thursdays and Fridays. All students in those grades will learn remotely on Wednesdays. Career and Technical Education programs will operate under the same schedule.
The decision to return to in-class instruction was made Feb. 9 by the PSRC Board of Education. Parents may still choose to allow students to continue remote learning.
On Friday, most public schools in Robeson County were finishing up last-minute preparations for the return of students to the classrooms Monday.
Rosenwald Elementary School Principal Isabel Jones said her staff members met multiple times throughout the week to prepare for reentry and to rehearse protocols, such as staff members’ duties during student drop-off.
“We pretty much have all of our plans in place, as far as bus routes,” Jones said.
And the school has a reentry plan in place, she said.
The school has prepared for the return of 140 students, she said. There are 367 students enrolled at the school.
Jones said she is excited to see students Monday and shared words to parents who are preparing to send them to back to school.
“We are doing everything we can, in our power, to make sure that all of our children are safe,” she said.
Jones welcomes phone calls or emails from parents who might worry about their children during their first week of in-person learning.
Pembroke Middle School staff members were preparing classrooms for student reentry on Friday afternoon, Principal Anthony Barton said. Staff made sure cleaning supplies and desk shields were in place in each classroom.
“It’s been a very busy day, and week,” he said.
The school expects the return of about 225 of its 750 students next week.
The principal said teachers are excited, but nervous.
After the school’s reentry plans are put into motion Monday staff members might be less anxious, Barton said.
“This is unlike anything we’ve ever done before,” he said. “We are as prepared as we know to be.”
Barton is looking forward to seeing children in the classrooms again.
“I’m looking forward to the hustle and bustle that school brings,” he said.
Barton asked parents for patience and understanding during the transition, as the school follows its safety protocols and adjusts to a “new normal.”
Some desk shields were being installed Friday at Lumberton Senior High School, Principal Larry Brooks said.
Initially, 339 students were expected to return to school, Brooks said. But, some students were calling Friday and changing learning plans, which has added challenges to reentry planning.
So, the school is planning for everyone to come back, with about 887 students on campus Monday and Tuesday, and 937 Thursday and Friday, he said.
As students return, they will be given forms to fill out indicating their choice to learn remotely or in person, Brooks said. A capacity of 12 students is planned for each classroom, and if more attend in person, they will be located to other classrooms or the media center.
Lumberton High bus driver Shelly Locklear, who has driven a school bus at the school for 14 of her 25 years working for PSRC, said she was looking forward to seeing students again Monday.
She loves interacting with each student and greeting them as they board the bus, Locklear said.
“I love to talk, and they love to talk to me,” she said with a smile.
School district officials warn parents of bus delays for some schools because of the shortage of bus drivers, but anticipate delays to be “minimal,” Gordon Burnette said.
“There will be one student per seat on school buses unless they reside in the same household, in which there can then be two students per seat. Pick-up and drop-off times for students may be shorter to ensure buses have the ability to arrive on their school campus no later than 15 minutes past the bell times,” Burnette said.
Buses will be sanitized after each run and some buses will have staff liaisons accompanying the driver to ensure social distancing protocols and that students use hand sanitizer before boarding, he said. Not every school will have a liaison in place because of staffing limitations.
“We want our parents to know that we understand that they may be apprehensive to send their students on the school bus as we return to the classroom for in-person instruction,” Burnette said. “Operations will look and be different than they have in the past. However, we want our parents to know we will be following all compliance and parameters set forth by the NCDHHS guidelines in regards to maintaining school bus cleanliness and social distancing measures.”
Burnette also had a message for motorists.
“We would also like to take a moment to encourage our community members to exercise caution while they are driving in the early mornings and afternoons,” he said. “Our school buses have not been on our Robeson County roads in this magnitude in almost a year and our No. 1 priority is to have our PSRC students arrive or depart their school safely.”