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Construction on track in Baskerville / April 21, 2021

The Mecklenburg County School Board covered a range of issues at Monday night’s monthly meeting, from summer school to graduation plans to an update on the construction of the new consolidated secondary campus in Baskerville.

Because so many students have struggled with hybrid learning this school year, Superintendent Paul Nichols said summer school and “significant remediation” plans are in the works. The current plan is to offer two summer sessions to afford both students and teachers added options for attending.”

Much of the nearly $6 million in CARES Act money the school division received from the federal and state government in 2020 is being spent on these remediation programs, Nichols said. In a discussion held before the meeting, Nichols said he expects to receive an additional $10 million to $11 million in funding from President Biden’s American Rescue Plan passed by Congress in March. This money, like CARES Act funding in 2020, would go toward remediation, health and sanitation supplies and technology needs.

Nichols also said he intends to set up a community advisory board to offer input on implementing several of the legislative changes that were handed down by the Virginia General Assembly during its 2021 session. Nichols did not specify which issues the committee would be asked to weigh in on.

Vincent Maresca, a representative of SKANSKA, the company overseeing construction of the county’s new consolidated secondary school campus, said work on the project is continuing on schedule. “We are now rounding the term at the halfway point. It’s been 16 of the 30 months” planned for completing the project.

Roofing is being installed on portions of the building. Work on the second stories has begun and the builders were able to find sufficient savings to install in-ground irrigation at each of the sports fields on the campus.

Maresca also showed photos of the new 250KW generator installed near the cafeteria that will keep refrigeration units in the school running in the event of a power outage. A second 350KW generator was previously installed next to the Central Utility Building. This unit will keep lights, heat and air conditioning running in the buildings during outages.

School division attorneys have drafted a new policy on restraint and seclusion of students that is consistent with newly enacted laws in Virginia. The School Board is reviewing that policy, along with a similar one drafted by the Virginia School Board Association. Trustees will decide which policy to adopt at their monthly meeting in May.

Under Virginia’s new restraint and seclusion provisions, school personnel may implement physical restraint or seclusion of students only when other interventions are or would be ineffective. Examples of when restraint or seclusion might be used include:

» Prevent a student from inflicting serious physical harm or injury to self or others;

» Quell a disturbance or remove a student from the scene of a disturbance in which the student’s behavior or damage to property threatens serious physical harm or injury to persons;

» Defend self or others from serious physical harm or injury; or

» Obtain possession of controlled substances or paraphernalia or weapons or other dangerous objects that are upon the person of the student or within the student’s control.

Virginia law requires the use of physical restraint and seclusion to be discontinued as soon as the imminent risk of serious physical harm or injury to self or others presented by the emergency situation has dissipated.

School Board members approved a request by Park View High School BETA Club advisors Bobbie Wright and Claire Mitchell to send 11 students BETA Club National Convention at Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

Mitchell said these students — three sophomores, one junior and seven seniors — have qualified to compete in various national competitions that take place during the convention. She called their performances “exceptional” and offered her expectation that they would bring home several trophies for their performance.

Trustee Ricky Allgood asked that Mitchell and Wright have parents sign a waiver ahead of the trip, releasing the school division from any liability should any student contract COVID-19. Wright said that at least seven of the 11 students would have been fully vaccinated before the trip.

Nichols showed a “curie box” that was donated to the school division. It is the invention of Sophie Crowder. The box, which Nichols described as a bread box retrofitted with an ultraviolet light and lined with foil, is used to sanitize cell phones. The box has a timer on top to notify the user when the sanitation process has been completed.

Nichols said the ultraviolet light kills germs. It is a better way to sanitize hand-held electronic devices than repeatedly wiping them down with cleaning fluid which can negatively affect the electronics.

Nichols said Mecklenburg County Public School students will be performing virtually with Orchestra 2100 on Wednesday at 9 a.m. The concert can be viewed live on YouTube or watched at a later time on the Mecklenburg County Public School YouTube channel. The interactive performance lasts about 45 minutes.

The theme for the concert is “Peter and the Wolf.” First and second grade students will be providing the art work that will be displayed throughout the performance. Fifth grade students will be accompanying the orchestra during several selections.

Orchestra 2100 is the brainchild of Maestro David Michael Wolff, the artistic director of the Carolina Symphony. The goal of the program is to engage students in music education and music-based STEAM content that includes an interactive orchestral experience program.

With the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, Wolff reimagined the program into a virtual learning experience for students and teachers.

In other news, Nichols said the Chase City, Clarksville and South Hill chambers of commerce will hold their annual Unity Lunch in the middle school cafeteria at the consolidated secondary school under construction in Baskerville. The lunch will take place May 18 and will include a tour of the facilities and a discussion about workforce development and career academies.

Nichols said he also plans to seek support from business leaders for a proposed 1-cent sales tax referendum that he hopes to have placed on the ballot for the November general election. The money generated from the tax, which County Administrator Wayne Carter has previously estimated at around $400,000 per year, would be earmarked for school construction.

Nichols said, “The success [of a similar referendum in 2019] in Halifax County was due in large part to the leadership of businesses in the county.”

June 8 is a special election, so school buildings will be closed but all students will be expected to attend class virtually.

The school division is looking to hold graduation ceremonies for the Class of 2021 similar to those that took place last year.

Honeycutt asked if there was any possibility that additional people could attend. He was told by Brian Dalton, executive director of operations and maintenance, that under current limits, Bluestone and Park View high schools would be limited to only about 250 at graduation and that includes students and faculty.

Current state guidelines limit crowds to either 500 people or one-third building capacity for indoor events, with the lower of the two numbers mandated.

If graduation ceremonies are held outdoors, there is the potential for inviting more people, Dalton noted outdoor ceremonies pose other problems that would need to be addressed, such as: what do to if it rains, the need for a stage, and how to ensure people can both see and hear what is happening on stage.

Joan Hite, executive director of curriculum and instruction, said SOL testing will run from May 17 to June 11. During that time there will likely be adjustments to in-person learning schedules. She said it is “important that parents [follow] the directions that the schools are giving since each school testing schedule will be different.”

Testing calendars are different to accommodate the various students being testing and the number of available proctors and examiners, Hite said.

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