Fleming updates school board during online meeting

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Harnett County Schools shuttered on March 13 due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

HCS Board of Education members, on Monday, held a livestream meeting where officials provided progress reports on the state of the school system as it enters its second month of the statewide shutdown.

Superintendent Dr. Aaron Fleming updated board members on topics ranging from COVID-19 to school construction. Board members and other administrators logged into the meeting remotely in an effort to mitigate gatherings and practice social distancing.

Fleming started his presentation praising the work done by the district’s staff over the last month, particularly its child nutrition department. HCS served more than 3,100 free meals across the county on Monday as the number of people showing up at the district’s eight pickup sites continued to grow.

“Our child nutrition staff is on the front lines of this,” Fleming said. “All of our employees are working, many are on site, but our child nutrition folks are seeing different people all day long. We’re trying to keep them protected as much as possible. We appreciate their efforts.”

Staff spent much of the past few weeks sanitizing schools and buses. Despite the thorough cleaning, Fleming said he told principals not to allow any nonessential staff into buildings for the time being. The district previously provided educational packets parents could pick up from the school, but shifted to a mail delivery system in the past week to limit person-to-person exposure.

“Our staff has done an amazing job of continuing the education of our students remotely,” said Fleming. “I am meeting weekly with Department of Public Instruction in our region.”

Fleming offered an update on student grading and how it impacts the rest of what remains of the 2019-20 school year. Fleming confirmed what state officials announced last week in that seniors would receive a pass or fail grade based on their status in the class on March 13.

“The class of 2020 will graduate,” Fleming said.

As far as grades K-11, Fleming reaffirmed his stance that students without access to either reliable high-speed internet or a device at home should not be penalized for a lack of connectivity. While some students managed to interact with their teachers during the current shutdown, others have not, creating an unfair learning experience.

“The greatest fear right now is that not every student has access to reliable high speed internet or a reliable device at home,” said Fleming. “While we have been able to distribute devices, without connectivity it would be impossible for a student to have direct interaction with their teacher.

While time will tell if our students return on May 15 or later, no student will receive a failing grade if they were not able to receive direct instruction from their teachers. Teachers would like to review student work and guide them in the right direction, if needed. In some cases, teachers have been able to teach new material, but we know this is a difficult time and I appreciate everyone’s efforts.”

Board members already faced a full slate of ongoing projects and a budget proposal before COVID-19 snaked its way into the county. Fleming in January and February presented the board with possible budgets, although the amount of money available to the county in a few months remains unknown with tax revenue drying up as businesses continue to close. Fleming’s initial ideas focused around future construction, school improvement projects and other necessary upgrades across the district.

Demolition at the Erwin Elementary School continued through March and Fleming said the project is moving forward despite the shutdown. Harnett County Schools also authorized a contractor to finish installing new security cameras in hopes of having the project finished by the end of the school year.

Harnett County Commissioners recently approved the creation of a new public educational government access channel Fleming hopes can be used to distribute information, classes and possibly launch a student-created TV broadcast program.

“I look forward to finding out all the uses we have for this,” said Fleming.

HCS scheduled its monthly briefing for April 20, which also will be held remotely.

Eliot Duke can be reached at eduke@mydailyrecord.com or at 910-230-2038.

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