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The threat of lightning, rain, and thunder did not stop some protestors advocating for education on Monday. Before the Bladen County Board of Education started their virtual meeting on Monday, August 11, 2020 demonstrators were seen outside in the pouring rain at the Bladen County Schools District Office on Poplar Street in Elizabethtown.

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The group of 18 people held posters with statements like, “Bladen County can hold in-person court for Criminals, but Not In-Person Learning for Students?” … “Am I Essential?” … “Give Us The Choice”… “If you had a Will for in-person learning, there would be a Way!” All the protestors in attendance wore masks.

Joanna Stewart, a Bladen County Schools parent, said while protesting, “I’m here because I feel like we weren’t given an option as to what our children need this year.” She explained she understood that not everyone is ready for classroom learning, and her appreciation for teachers, but there should be an option for in-person learning.

Stewart said she had not been asked, but that she would be willing to volunteer to help Bladen County Schools come up with solutions for in-person learning.

Melissa Williams, another Bladen County parent, participating in the protest, said, “I’m here for education.” Williams expressed her appreciation for the teachers and the assistance her children have received during the remote learning. However, Williams explained more funding needed to go towards education and not meal delivery.

The protest organizer, Daine Smith, said, “We planned a protest for parents who might have been like minded as far as it being time for their children to return to school. We feel like the board, under the recommendation of Dr. Taylor jumped to a conclusion that is just not satisfactory to us. We feel like the parents should have the right to decide when it is time for their children to return to school, and they have taken that decision from us.”

Dr. Jason Atkinson, with Bladen County Schools, broadcasted the virtual Board of Education meeting on his YouTube Channel. Approval of the minutes for the July 23, 2020 special-called virtual board meeting and the July 20, 2020, regular virtual meeting were both approved unanimously. The board members did not acknowledge the protest outside the Bladen County Schools office during the meeting.

During the Citizen Participation portion of the meeting, Valerie Newton and Bladen County Schools read one parent’s comment submitted to the board.

The comment was read by Newton as follows:

“To whom it may concern:

Our family has concerns regarding classroom options for all grades. As a health care worker, I am aware of the risk of contracting COVID-19, but if we follow CDC guidelines, why can’t all grades have the option for in class learning? My husband and I work full-time jobs so it is difficult for us to work and come home and teach our son efficiently. Not only that, but I need someone to keep our son daily. This is also an issue.

This past spring, we completed work packets at home as we were unable to receive internet in our area. This strategy was not very effective for us. We completed the work to get it done, but as far as learning and retaining the information, we believe our son needs the structure of a classroom to receive the full effect. It is very important to us that our son, who wants to return to a classroom receive the education he needs and deserves.

We understand it may not be full weeks for classroom time, but any at all would be helpful. We have considered other options such as private and charter schools, but from the financial aspect, drive distance, and before and after school care, would make it very difficult. Our son will be in 5th grade this upcoming school year at BMS if we have an in-class option. BMS is very convenient for us than to have to find someone to take and pick up our son at another school. We always enjoy attending Bladenboro school. The teachers and staff are kind, and our son has done well in learning. Please reconsider the options for school openings. Thank you for your time.”

After Newton completed the reading, the COVID-19 Update from Superintendent Dr. Robert Taylor was given, and Amy Stanley provided child nutrition updates.

The board approved the policy to allow the use of buses to deliver meals during the State of Emergency mandated by the North Carolina Governor.

Consent items pertaining to EC Contracts, Title I Application, Updated Teleworking Agreement, were all approved.

Custom Policy updates received some questions from board members, Corey Singletary and Gary Rhoda, but were passed in a 7 to two vote.

The board then went into closed session for the purpose of discussing personnel, as per NCGS 143.318.11, (a) (1),to consult with an attorney, if needed, as per NCGS 143.318.11 (a) (3), and to discuss student reassignment/discipline, per the 1974 Family Rights and Privacy Act.

Once the board members returned from the closed session, they approved a motion by Dr. Antonia Beatty to approve the personnel action items. The motion was made and approved, but no details about the action item was discussed.

Board member Singletary asked about the roofs leaking after the hurricane before the board adjourned. View a video of the protestors and the meeting on our YouTube Channel. See the link below.

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