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More students in ECPPS coming for face-to-face learning

Increasing numbers of Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Public Schools students are returning to campus for face-to-face instruction.

The most dramatic example might be Northeastern High School, where 61 students who chose remote learning last semester opted for face-to-face classes when school resumed in January.

However, a few students are making the opposite choice: deciding to return to remote learning. At Northeastern, 15 students made that decision this semester.

NHS’ enrollment is 583 students, and of that number 154 have returned to in-person classes. There are also 10 students at the school waiting to return to in-person classes. The rest have chosen to continue remote learning.

The numbers at NHS were part of interim ECPPS Superintendent Rhonda James-Davis’ report on students’ return to in-person classes at the Board of Education’s regular meeting Monday night.

Board member Rodney Walton asked about schools’ capacity under social distancing guidelines and how that affects the number of students on waiting lists to return to in-person classes.

James-Davis explained that the capacity for each classroom is based on social distancing requirements. Capacity is classroom-specific, so if two students return to remote learning that does not necessarily open up two spaces at that school, she said. Rather, it all depends on which classrooms those students would be returning to.

“So it’s not just an even switch-out,” she said.

While most ECPPS schools are seeing more students opt to return to in-person classes, Central Elementary bucked the trend. It currently has an enrollment of 301 students, 144 of whom are in face-to-face classes. While 10 are newly returned to in-person classes, 17 are newly returned to remote learning. Another 27 are on the waiting list to return to in-person classes.

The following data is for other ECPPS schools:

• Pre-K: 113 total students, 72 of whom are in face-to-face classes. Seven returned to in-person classes and two returned to remote learning. No students are waiting.

• J.C. Sawyer Elementary: 341 total students, 187 of whom are in face-to-face classes. Seventeen returned to face-to-face classes, while another 15 are waiting to return to in-person classes. Eleven returned to remote learning.

• Northside Elementary: 434 total students, 237 of whom are in face-to-face classes. Eleven returned to face-to-face classes, while another 35 are waiting to return to in-person classes. Seven students returned to remote learning.

• Pasquotank Elementary: 266 total students, 140 in face-to-face classes. Nineteen returned to face-to-face classes, while another five are waiting to return to in-person classes. Seven students returned to remote learning.

• P.W. Moore Elementary: 364 total students, 196 in face-to-face classes. Twenty-six returned to face-to-face classes, while another seven are waiting to do so. Sixteen returned to remote learning.

• Weeksville Elementary: 211 total students, 134 in face-to-face classes. Eight returned to face-to-face classes, while another 12 are waiting to do so. Four others returned to remote learning.

• Sheep-Harney Elementary: 330 total students, 110 in face-to-face classes. Sixteen returned to face-to-face classes, while another 40 are waiting to do so. Ten others returned to remote learning.

• Elizabeth City Middle School: 589 total students, 215 in face-to-face classes. Thirty-two returned to face-to-face classes, while another 17 are waiting to do so. Fourteen others returned to remote learning.

• River Road Middle School: 582 total students, 247 in face-to-face classes. Twenty-one returned to face-to-face classes, while 18 are waiting to do so. Four others returned to remote learning.

• Pasquotank High: 623 students, 124 in face-to-face classes. Forty returned to face-to-face classes, while one is waiting to do so. Thirty-six returned to remote learning.

• Elizabeth City Pasquotank Early College: 131 students, 27 in face-to-face classes. Twelve returned to in-person classes while one returned to remote learning. No students are on the waiting list.

That’s a rip

Mid-Atlantic Christian University sophomore and member of the MACU Mustangs baseball team Christian Moody gets in some batting practice on campus, Tuesday afternoon. Moody and other players, including sophomore Jeren Harrison, who was pitching, were taking advantage of the sunny weather to spend time practicing in the batting cages. With the team’s season underway, the Mustangs will host Thomas Nelson Community College today. MACU’s home games are played on the field at Albemarle School.

City begins search for homeless shelter


Elizabeth City officials have begun a search to find a location for a permanent homeless shelter in the city.

City Council directed City Manager Montre Freeman at Monday’s council meeting to locate a suitable site for the shelter, capping the cost at $150,000.

The city has almost $48,000 in unspent funds in the current fiscal budget designated to combat homelessness in the city and officials are hoping for another $100,000 in state money.

State Rep. Howard Hunter, D-Hertford, recently said that he would submit legislation to get $100,000 in state money for the shelter. That would bring the available money for the shelter to almost $150,000 if Hunter’s legislation becomes law.

Hunter, D-Hertford, sponsored legislation passed by the General Assembly two years ago that allocated $100,000 for the homeless shelter but the money was never appropriated because state officials could never agree on a budget.

“If the funding from the state were to come through from Rep. Hunter that would be about $150,000 and that would be a pretty good working number,” said Councilor Billy Caudle.

Councilor Darius Horton said he would like the cost of the shelter to stay “under” $150,000 so the city will have money for any needed renovation costs.

“I would like to stay much under that so we can make any improvements that we may have to do,” Horton said.

If a building is found and eventually purchased, the city would then seek a nonprofit to manage the facility.

City Council asked city staff at last week’s planning retreat to come up with a list of suitable locations for a shelter. In response, council was initially given a list of 20 properties to consider.

Fourteen of the properties are vacant but only seven are currently listed for sale. But most of the listed properties have a price tag well above the $150,000 purchase price the city is looking at.

The only two properties under the city’s $150,000 cap are vacant but neither is currently listed for sale.

The 2,700-square-foot former White and Bright Food Center at 315 South Road Street has a tax value of $76,200. The 9,400-square-foot former Wright Ice and Fuel Company building at 1101 Herrington Road has a tax value of $115,100.

Horton asked city staff “to vet” the list and bring back more specifics, acknowledging that some of the properties on the list are not viable options because of the price.

“I think this is a great start,” Horton said of the initial list. “This gives us possible properties. I believe if our city staff were to find an appropriate building then I believe we could find the funding. I would like them to take this list and narrow it down to realistic opportunities.”

Council was approached earlier this month by SOULS Ministry and River City Community Development Corp. seeking monetary help to help shelter homeless persons in hotels rooms during cold weather.

Horton noted that around $15,000 has been raised in January and February by churches and individuals that has used to house the homeless on the nights of cold temperatures. He believes the city should allocate its money for a permanent shelter.

Horton said a permanent shelter is needed not only to house the homeless during cold weather but also to provide services to help them overcome mental illness and addiction issues.

“They do have some funding to provide hotel shelter, and they still need funds,” Horton said of SOULS and River City CDC. “But even though we have some more cold weather in front of us, we as the council need to be good stewards and the way we do that is locate some possible buildings. I believe we need to stay this course and pinpoint one of these properties.”

Sponsor makes changes to public notices legislation


The lead sponsor for one of two identical bills in the N.C. General Assembly that would remove the requirement that local governments publish public notices in newspapers told members on the Committee on Local Government Tuesday that changes have been made to the proposed legislation.

House Bill 51 and House Bill 35 would give local governments the option of only posting public notices on their website if local elected government officials enact such an ordinance.

But Rep. Harry Warren, R-Rowan, told the House Committee on Local Government that several changes have been made to the bill. The committee was expected to vote on moving the two bills closer to a vote on the House floor but Tuesday’s meeting was for discussion only.

Warren said changes to the legislation would still require county boards of elections to continue to post election notices in newspapers. Counties would also have to continue to publish notices of delinquent taxes in newspapers.

“They (board of elections) can still post on the county website if the bill becomes law but to comply with state statue they have to post in the newspaper as they are currently required,” Warren said. “We also made the change that would require the counties to continue to post their delinquent tax reports in the newspaper as well. We thought this was an advantage for the county and a better service to the constituents.”

State Rep. Howard Hunter, D-Hertford, and state Rep. Eddie Goodwin, R-Chowan, are sponsors of House Bill 51. State Rep. Bobby Hanig, R-Currituck, is a sponsor of House Bill 35.

The two bills have been filed as local bills which means they are not subject to a veto by the governor. A local bill can include up to 14 counties.

Pasquotank, Camden, Perquimans and Chowan counties are included in HB 51 while Currituck is included in HB 35.

But the rest of the legislation allows local governments to only post public notices on their websites.

Critics of the legislation say, if passed, it would allow governments to operate more easily in the dark. They note that under current law, local governments are required to post public notices in a newspaper of general circulation in their county.

The legislation would still allow local governments to publish public notices in local newspapers if they choose. However, not being required to do so likely would result in local officials opting to save money by publishing the notices only on their website.

Warren told the Committee on Local Government that counties would save money on advertising costs if the legislation becomes law, saying that 22 municipalities in the 23 counties covered by the two bills are on the N.C. State Treasurer’s financial distress watch list.

“This is giving them a tool in the tool box to help them save money,” Warren said. “The prolonged shutdown of our economy has had a negative effect on the revenue stream for small towns. This is an opportunity for them to save a little bit of money.”

Warren told the committee that newspapers across the country continue to close at a rapid pace, thus reducing their effectiveness.

“We’ve seen newspapers going out of business at a high rate,” Warren said.

But N.C. Press Association Executive Director Phil Lucey said that is not the case in North Carolina. The association represents 160 newspapers across the state, including around 100 weekly publications.

“That has been the breakdown for more than a decade, if not more,” Lucey said. “In the past year since the pandemic, we have more people trying to figure out what is going on in their local communities. We are reaching more people than we ever have before.”

The Committee on Local Government is expected to vote next week on whether to advance the legislation to the Finance Committee. The legislation also must clear the Rules Committee before it is voted on by the full House. It also must clear the Senate to become law.

Buffaloe wants to add part-time officers to police department

Police Chief Eddie Buffaloe wants to add up to 10 part-time police officers to Elizabeth City’s police department.

The plan would cost the city between $100,000 and $120,000 a year. The part-time officers would be paid $18 an hour and would work no more than 1,508 hours, or 29 hours a week, per calendar year. The officers would also be absorbed under the city’s insurance plan at no added cost.

Buffaloe made his request to City Council at its annual planning retreat last week. Buffaloe is also asking for additional money to pay a shift premium to officers; create a joint dive team with the city’s fire department; purchase a Mobile Command Unit; and purchase civil unrest preparedness equipment.

Buffaloe told City Council that the five to 10 part-time sworn officers he is requesting would handle policing at special events, handle the department’s daily assignment at the Pasquotank Department of Social Services, and provide crime scene protection and traffic control.

Part-time officers would be required to have general certification from the N.C. Criminal Justice Education and Training Standards Commission.

Having the part-time officers would allow the current force of police officers to better patrol city streets and investigate crimes, Buffaloe said.

“We have been using them (full-time officers) at the Potato Festival, we have been using them at vaccination clinics, posting them at extended crime scenes,” Buffaloe said. “We had three homicides in one day and had three extended crime scenes. We had to hold one of those locations for about three days.’’

Buffaloe told City Council that Elizabeth City is one of the few police departments that have permanent shifts. The 10-percent shift premium would go to officers who work nights and weekends and would boost those officers’ pay on average by around $4,100 a year.

Twenty officers would be eligible for the premium and it would cost the city just over $83,000 annually. The department has 40 officers assigned to the Field Operations Division.

“Shift premiums allow for greater competition within the labor market in recruiting the highest caliber of candidates for the position of police officer,” Buffaloe said.

The Mobile Command Unit would cost around $40,000, with half that amount being used to equip the vehicle. The unit would be used at public events, crime scene investigations, vaccination and testing clinics and for natural disasters.

Buffaloe said the mobile unit would also be used by the city’s fire and public utilities departments. The current mobile unit is 23 years old and shared by the city, Camden and Pasquotank counties and Emergency Management.

Buffaloe told councilors that it’s unclear who is responsible for maintaining the vehicle.

“We may use it tomorrow and it may or may not start,” Buffaloe said. “We allowed Hertford and Perquimans to use it during their natural gas leak and there was a problem with the generator.’’

Buffaloe is also asking to purchase $13,000 of what he described as “less-than-lethal” equipment that would be used to respond to a civil unrest incident in the city.

The purchase would include irritants like pepper bells, munitions like bean bag rounds, rubber balls and batons and distraction devices such as flashbangs. The devices would be classified as minimum force but effective enough to deter hostile crowds.

“The civil unrest events of 2020 showed the Elizabeth City Police Department needs additional equipment to protect lives and property from individuals who seek to disrupt the lives of our citizens,’’ Buffaloe said. “We are requesting these to be on hand so we can be prepared.”

Establishing a dive team would cost around $60,000, which would go toward training and the purchase of equipment. The city currently uses the Chowan County Sheriff’s Office’s dive team.

“We have six police officers in our department that are interested (in serving on a dive team),” Buffaloe said. “The fire department already has divers that go over to Chowan and serve on the dive team. We have the staff, we just don’t have the equipment.’’