Northampton School Board Extends Superintendent’s Contract Without Notice

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By Stefanie Jackson – The Northampton County school board voted for the second and final time June 11 in favor of Superintendent Eddie Lawrence continuing in his position for two more years, after the board learned that its May 28 vote on the matter did not conform to state law.

Chair Maxine Rasmussen announced June 11 that the school board had been notified that its members were not given at least 30 days notice before the May 28 vote on the superintendent’s contract, as mandated by the Code of Virginia, section 22.1-60.

Vice chairman William Oakley pointed out that the law allows a vote on a superintendent’s contract earlier if “the members unanimously agree to take the vote without the 30 days’ notice.”

School board member Jo Ann Molera made a motion to waive the 30 days notice and vote again on Lawrence’s contract that evening. It was seconded and passed unanimously.

The school board voted 5-1 to issue Lawrence a new two-year contract, with school board member Charlena Jones opposed and school board member Stephanie Castro absent – the same result as the May 28 vote.

Neither the May 28 meeting agenda nor the June 11 agenda specified that the school board had planned to discuss the superintendent’s contract.

Lawrence’s annual performance evaluation and contract were discussed in confidentiality in closed session on May 28 as personnel matters. The school board voted on Lawrence’s contract after certifying the closed session and returning to open session.

The second vote on Lawrence’s contract on June 11 was conducted during discussion item 3.03, dates of note.

According to Virginia code, every school superintendent’s contract must begin on July 1 and end June 30. After the initial contract period, subsequent contracts can be for a period specified by the board but not more than four years. Lawrence’s new contract will begin July 1 and end June 30, 2022.

The school board also discussed on June 11 how to implement Virginia Superintendent of Public Instruction James Lane’s Recover, Redesign, Restart plan to reopen schools.

Northampton County Public Schools is currently in Phase One, which allows in-person instruction for students with disabilities. The school division is working on plans to submit to the Virginia Department of Education and the Virginia Department of Health for permission to enter Phase Two, when in-person instruction may begin for children in grades pre-K to three.

Teachers have requested a summer reading program for students who will start third grade in the fall. The reading program is tentatively scheduled for the first two weeks of August. (Students are administered the Virginia Standards of Learning test on reading for the first time in third grade.)

Phase Two social distancing rules will allow school buses to have one student per seat in every other row, but Lane believes that the health department will approve one student in each seat in a kitty-corner seating arrangement, with the exception of siblings, who may sit together.

That was a “glimmer of hope” for Lawrence, who said that meant 20 or more students, not only eight or nine, could ride a bus together.

Social distancing rules also require desks to be spaced six feet apart, meaning most Northampton school classrooms can accommodate 10 or 12 children.

Shared common areas, such as cafeterias, must remain closed in Phase Two, and elementary school students will eat meals in their classrooms.

No athletic or extracurricular programs will be offered in Phase Two.

Due to strict social distancing rules, students will need to be divided into two groups that attend school in-person and participate in remote learning on alternating weeks.

That schedule includes possible early dismissal on Fridays to facilitate online meetings with students, professional development, office hours, and cleaning buildings.

A possible alternative is having students in Group A attend school in person on Mondays and Wednesdays and students in Group B attend in person on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Jones noted that either scenario will present challenges to parents who will need to obtain day care services for their children on the days or weeks the children do not attend school.

Some families are also challenged by remote learning because they lack internet access. To help all students participate in remote learning, the school division plans to use Virtual Virginia video lessons, which can be downloaded at school and watched at home.

Lawrence acknowledged that some teachers prefer to use online platforms like Google Classroom to customize lessons, but internet connectivity is required for students to access them.

Students in pre-K through grade two likely will receive packets of written work to take home, because research has not shown that remote learning is effective for children in those grades, Lawrence said.

He expects Northampton schools to be in Phase Two at least through July.

In Phase Three, in-person instruction may be offered to all students, with social distancing rules similar to those in Phase Two.

Remote learning and teleworking options must be available for students and staff members who have high-risk health conditions.

A team was expected to begin work this week on the plan to reopen Northampton’s public schools.