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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

NHCS board: Suspension rates down, substitute pay up. Plus, when will masks come off?

The New Hanover County Board of Education met Tuesday for an interim meeting. (Port City Daily photo/Alexandria Sands Williams)

NEW HANOVER COUNTY — Out-of-school suspensions among elementary students were significantly down the first few months of this school year compared to past quarters, according to a presentation Tuesday night at the New Hanover County Board of Education meeting.

In 2017 schools assigned 101 in-school suspensions (ISS) and 185 out-of-school suspensions (OSS) in the first quarter. In the first quarter of 2019, elementary students faced 42 cases of ISS and 154 cases of OSS in total.

So far this school year, 59 cases of ISS were handed down in the first quarter for grades K-5 and 26 cases of OSS were assigned. There were 31 cases of ISS alone at Snipes Academy of Arts & Design, a notable jump from the second-highest number of ISS assignments at a school: seven at Forest Hills Global Elementary.

Students at Snipes faced 31 cases of ISS, a notable jump from the second-highest number of ISS assignments at a school: seven at Forest Hills Global Elementary

Assistant Superintendent of Student Support Services Julie Varnam told board members not to be alarmed by the high rate at Snipes. She explained ISS at the school is not solely a route to remove students from the classroom; it is used for intervention building. Students at Snipes partake in restorative practices during their time there, she said, breaking down the issues to determine the source of the misbehavior.

RELATED: Call to end suspensions of young students highlights racial inequity, restorative practices in New Hanover

In recent months, a group of community members has led the “Love Our Children” movement to end suspensions for 4-, 5- and 6-year-old students. The group believes the suspensions disproportionately impact Black youth, and should only be used when necessary to guarantee the health and safety of other students.

When can student stop wearing masks?

Health officials presented a rather positive update on Covid-19 trends to the school board Tuesday night.

New Hanover County vaccination rates for ages 12 to 17 are rising. More than half of that population has received their first dose and just under half are fully vaccinated. Assistant Public Health Director Carla Turner said vaccination rates are higher than the state average for ages 25 to 64 –– the population of NHCS employees –– but there’s room for improvement.

The first few weeks of school, Covid-19 cases among staff and students were climbing. Now they’ve fallen from around 200 cases a week to just 38 in the latest weekly update.

“We tend to see more positives among our athletic teams, but we are certainly doing everything we can to work with the school system to help address that,” Turner said.

To end the mask mandate, the New Hanover County Health and Human Services Board is watching for a 5% positivity rate community-wide and a low average daily case rate. Currently, the county’s rate is down, but the hospital is maintaining a rate above 8%, public health director David Howard said.

The county’s case rate is in the 30s, down from a high of 300 about seven weeks ago.

READ MORE: As Covid-19 metrics show improvement, officials continue to evaluate need for mask mandate

NHCS votes again on the mask mandate at its next meeting, Nov. 9. It is required by law to review the face-covering policy monthly. The board is expected to continue enforcing masks in classrooms unless the countywide mandate is dropped before then.

Substitute pay increasing to the highest regionally

In an effort to fill its substitute shortage, the board voted to increase the substitute pay rate to the highest in the region.

Licensed subs can now earn $135 a day; out-of-state licensed subs will make $111; and unlicensed subs and subs for teaching assistants will take home $100. The district is reimbursed $103 per daily sub from the state.

The only district in North Carolina with higher rates is the Alamance-Burlington School System, according to the assistant superintendent of human resources, Christopher Barnes.

“We want to make sure that anyone who’s thinking about becoming a sub, that we endorse that and bring them in as quick as we can with a higher salary rate,” Barnes said.

The board also implemented a $30 stipend for teachers who cover a class during their planning period or take in students from other classrooms on a day their teacher is absent.

“To be clear, this is not a way to increase our subs,” Barnes said. “This is a way to tell our employees that we know how hard they’re working.”

PREVIOUSLY: Substitute shortage burning out teachers

Lastly, the board created positions for full-time, permanent substitutes. A permanent licensed sub could earn $18 an hour, plus benefits. Out-of-state licensed holders could make $16 an hour and unlicensed subs are hired at an hourly rate of $14.

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Alexandria Sands
Alexandria Sands
Alexandria Sands is a journalist covering New Hanover County and education. Before Port City Daily, she reported for the award-winning State Port Pilot in Southport. She graduated from UNC Charlotte and wrote for several Charlotte publications while there. When not writing, Williams is most likely in the gym, reading or spending time with her Golden Pyrenees. Reach her at or on Twitter @alexsands_

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