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RSS updates state, local leaders on return to classes

SALISBURY — In its second week back in session, Rowan-Salisbury Schools on Tuesday laid out its current status during a meeting with district administration, local school board members, state and other leadership.

The information session was attended by State Board of Education member Freebird McKinney and N.C. Department of Public Instruction Legislative Liason Karson Nelson, who mostly observed while local leadership outlined how the district returned to classes.

Updates came from every department that reaches students directly, including facilities, outdoor spaces, buses, nutrition, athletics, technology, nurses and academics.

The panel also heard from Summit Virtual K-8 Principal Amy Pruitt, who leads the largest school in the district at about 2,700 students. The virtual school was created over the summer to provide an option for families who did not want to return to in-person classes.

The presentation ran into some technical difficulties during virtual school visits. The visits were presented by students at China Grove Elementary, West Rowan Middle and East Rowan High schools. There was also some difficulty communicating with teachers. Chief Technology Officer David Blattner noted the issue seemed to stem from trying to host a Zoom meeting broadcast on another Zoom meeting.

Summit Academy Principal Amy Pruitt addressing the panel. The virtual K-8 has 2,700 students, and is about twice the size of the next largest school, Jesse Carson High School.

Pruitt said her school is still establishing classroom norms working between parents, teachers and students.

“Parents are, of course, welcome to participate in their student’s educational day,” Pruitt said. “But, if it is in any way disruptive or taking attention away from the student’s learning time, we are having those conversations offline.”

RSS Superintendent Lynn Moody said sometimes because the virtual school is tunneling into people’s homes the district can see and hears things it does not want to see.

“That’s a real challenge,” Moody said.

Moody said the district did not realize that would be an issue until it had that problem, and conversations about disciplining families are ongoing in education right now. Another issue involves families bailing students out of problems before they can think through them.

Moody said administration can tune in to virtual classes at will and she, as well as other administrators, have observed classes that way.

Pruitt said the number of interruptions has been decreasing.

Most students are attending school two days a week on reduced-capacity buses. They are all required to social distance and wear masks during the day while in school buildings.

The district pointed out several issues for which it needs state assistance, including having a nurse in each school and an extension of a state waiver expiring on Aug. 31 that ensures the district can feed students for free.

Another concern raised was how experiences of the previous few months will impact students in the long term.

Assistant Superintendent of Advancement April Kuhn noted faculty are engaging students in social and emotional learning and the district wanted to ensure that students were in a safe and supportive classroom where they felt a sense of belonging.

Greg Edds, chairman of the Rowan County Board of Commissioners, mentioned challenges with bringing reliable internet access to rural parts of the counties as a barrier the county has grappled with. He said the county has committed $250,000 from COVID-19 related funding to expand wireless broadband access.

Nelson summarized the legislative needs the district described, including the nutrition waiver, holding districts harmless for average daily membership changes amid the pandemic, the importance of phase three for athletics and school nurses.

Moody described that as the district’s “Christmas list.”

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