Over 350 public school staff get first vaccine shots

By Catharin Shepard • Staff writer • More than 350 Hoke County Schools employees have been able to get at least the first of two COVID-19 vaccine shots since North Carolina officials made it available to school staff, according to school officials.

Dr. Peggy Owens, director of student support services, discussed the ongoing process of providing the COVID-19 vaccine to those staff members who want it. Currently 355 Hoke County Schools employees have received the first dose of the vaccine, and 33 have received the second dose of the vaccine. More are expected to receive the second dose of the Moderna vaccine next week.

“The Health Department, they’ve been amazing to work with. We appreciate everything they’ve done to support our teachers and our staff through this vaccination process,” Hoke County Schools Superintendent Dr. Debra Dowless said during the Board of Education’s meeting Tuesday, held remotely over Zoom.

The numbers don’t reflect any employees who may have received the vaccine at a location outside of Hoke County, but the schools are working to track those numbers too, Owens said.

The school system has more than 1,400 employees. A “number of people” on the staff have chosen not to get vaccinated against COVID-19, the board members discussed.

“A lot have decided not to get the shot?” board member Della Maynor asked.

“A number of people I have spoken with, yes ma’am, that is the case,” Owens said.

At least two board members, Barbara Buie and Maynor herself, mentioned they have been vaccinated against COVID-19. The schools are encouraging employees to take the shots.

“We are encouraging as many people as possible to get the vaccine,” Owens said.

The schools are also working to make it easier for teachers to take the time to get vaccinated. There will be a scheduled time after the instructional day where employees are able to get the vaccine so it won’t interfere with classroom instruction, Owens said.

The school system also continues tracking reported cases of the coronavirus among students and staff. Last week there were seven students and two employees who tested positive for COVID-19, for a total of nine cases, Owens reported.

The board also took a look at two pieces of legislation regarding school operations in the pandemic.

House Bill 82 proposes requiring public school students to attend six weeks of summer school this summer to catch up on any missed learning due to the pandemic. Administrators are looking at what it would take to meet the requirements proposed in the bill, in case that happens. Securing enough personnel to teach the classes over the summer and setting a schedule for the instruction are matters school boards in the state will have to address if House Bill 82 becomes law.

The board also discussed Senate Bill 37, passed by the North Carolina General Assembly, but vetoed by Gov. Roy Cooper. The bill proposed requiring all schools to reopen for in-person classes. It’s possible the General Assembly could attempt to pass similar legislation in the future, as the margin needed to override the veto was very slim – lacking only one vote to meet the required three-fifths majority.

Hoke County Schools reopened for in-person instruction late last month, after starting off the school year online-only due to the pandemic.

The school system is also looking at data and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations in preparation for eventually moving to a Plan A schedule, with students attending in-person classes four days a week. Administrators are looking at how to try to keep students safe should full classes return, compared to the reduced number of students currently attending in-person classes two days a week.

Other business

In other business, the school board looked at changes to how teachers receive pay under the state installment system. As part of the system modernization project, effective July 1, the Department of Public Instruction will no longer support the installment pay system, and the installment payouts in July and August 2021 will be the last payments, according to a letter from DPI.

About 90 percent of Hoke’s teachers use the installment system, according to Finance Officer Wannaa Chavis. By law, teachers must have an option to receive their 10-month pay in 12 monthly installments. It’s just not certain yet what new option will take the place of the old system.

“We’re waiting to see what we can find out,” Chavis said in the meeting.

Spotlight on success

In the spotlight on success, the board praised Hoke High Bucks swim team student athlete Nevaeh Roverato, who was named the SAC Female Swimmer of the Year. The board also honored students’ art work at Don Steed Elementary.

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