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FOREST CITY — In another sign that the COVID-19 pandemic is easing dramatically, the Rutherford County Board of Education decided to once again open school facilities for use by the public.

The board voted unanimously, 5-0, to end temporary rules put in place when the pandemic began. (Board Chairman Phillip Morrow was unable to attend the meeting).

In presenting the policy change proposal, Assistant Superintendent Renee Collins said, “Rutherford County Schools (RCS) is proud to partner with our community groups, and share our facilities.”

The temporary restriction on community use of facilities, put in place last year, stated in part: “In order to secure the health and safety of school system students and employees during the COVID-19 pandemic and in accordance with the requirements of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), school facilities will not be made available to community groups during or after the school day or on weekends in any week in which the school is holding in-person classes on the school campus.”

Board members were happy to remove the temporary restrictions on the community use of facilities policy.

“I’m glad that we’re able to open our schools again,” said Board Vice-Chairman Rick Ficklin.

In other business at the meeting, the board agreed to purchase elementary reading curriculum from Benchmark Education Company, on a recommendation from Keith Silver, director of K-5 education.

In his monthly superintendent’s report to the board, Superintendent David Sutton reflected on the challenges of the 2020-2021 school year, and expressed his hope for the coming year.

“By almost any measure, it was a school year quite unlike any other,” Sutton said. “It twisted and wound through a sometimes unpredictable landscape, and it presented a rather unique, rather relentless set of challenges for children and adults alike.”

He praised students, families and educators for facing the obstacles with determination, resilience, patience, and optimism.

“We ended the year on a much better footing than we began the school year, with improving public health conditions; the easing of statewide public health restrictions; the relaxing of some public health requirements within the school setting; and the widespread availability of vaccinations...”

Sutton said he expects conditions will continue to improve throughout the summer, and conditions will continue to be monitored.

“I very much look forward to a more stable, more predictable, and more consistent 2021-2022 school year that finds all our schools fully operational for daily face-to-face instruction, and I know that you do too,” Sutton continued.

He also noted that RCS summer school has gotten off to a successful start, with nearly 1,300 students participating.

“We look forward to providing them with a great experience this summer,” he said.

Sutton also congratulated the recent RCS graduates.

Also at the meeting, the school board recognized high school students who excel in the “gen{i}us” SAT preparation program. The program is designed to motivate students to achieve new levels of preparedness for the college years.

Students reaching the Virtual Virtuoso level are those who score at least 1220 on the SAT or 26 on the ACT exams. Students reaching the Mental Maestro level, score at least 1360 on SAT, or 30 on ACT.

From Chase High School, those recognized as Virtual Virtuoso are: Diego Almarez, Jacie Blackard, Brooklyn Blanton, Jose Chavez-Hernandez, Jordan Prairie, Taylan Roach and Alice Sargent. Those recognized as Mental Maestro are: Jenna Bridges, Malea Hunter, Jada Mosley and Gracie Vess.

From East Rutherford High School, those recognized as Virtual Virtuoso are: Brennah Bolt, Alexander Logan, Hannah Marshall, Matthew Mull, Connor Newton and Hayden Oliver. Those recognized as Mental Maestro are: Daniel Bayley, Emma Lovelace, Emma Neal and Donna Ullrich.

From R-S Central High School, those recognized as Virtual Virtuoso are: GaryAnkrom, Keeleigh Bush, Tiffany Cardwell, Christopher Fowler, Zachary Marshall, Liam Nelson, Emma Rogers and Connor Settlemyre. Those recognized as Mental Maestro are: Geoffrey Skinner and Noah Smith.

From Rutherford Early College High School (REaCH), those recognized as Virtual Virtuoso are: Maggie Beaumont, Abagail Conner, Sophie Marlow, LeLa McCurry, Nadia Milks, Chloe Post, Josh Self and Jamie Womack. Those recognized as Mental Maestro are: Justin Biggerstaff and Kristian Scruggs.