Stories and photos by WINGATE LASSITER unless credited otherwise
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School board votes 4-3 to continue mask mandate

The Johnston County Board of Education's split vote was the same as it was last month: Lyn Andrews, Al Byrd, Kay Carroll, and Terri Sessoms voted in favor of keeping the mask requirement in place for all students and staff; Ronald Johnson, Todd Sutton, and Mike Wooten voted to make masks optional. (Johnston County Public Schools Facebook photo)

As the board prepared to vote during Monday afternoon's brief virtual meeting, Ms. Andrews suggested a committee including at least two board members and leaders from Johnston's health-care community to work out some specific guidelines for determining when it's safe to lift the mask mandate in Johnston's schools.

Mr. Wooten volunteered to represent board members in favor of making masks optional. Chairman Sutton asked Ms. Sessoms and Mr. Johnson to serve as backups to Ms. Andrews and Mr. Wooten.

Mr. Johnson asked staff in the meantime to explore logistics of a scenario that would give parents and teachers choices "on a site-by-site basis" between school campuses where masks are required and others where they're optional.

This week's report from the school system on COVID-19 infections (posted at 9 a.m. Thursday): 
163 active cases among students and staff (down from 202 last week) with 665 students and 58 staff members quarantined (a week ago 842 students and 52 staff were quarantined). Smithfield-Selma High reported 11 active cases, the most of any school in Johnston County.

Schools with the most students in quarantine as of Thursday morning: Polenta Elementary with 40, Thanksgiving Elementary with 36, and Benson Elementary with 31. Locally, Selma Elementary reported 25 quarantined, South Smithfield Elementary 20, Smithfield-Selma High 16, Selma Middle 11, Wilson's Mills Elementary 6, and West Smithfield Elementary 2.

Incentive pay attacks substitute-teacher shortage

At a special virtual meeting late Wednesday afternoon, the Board of Education gave unanimous approval to a plan offering extra pay for substitute school teachers. That action followed a disturbing report from Brian Vetrano, the school system's personnel manager, that fewer than half of day-to-day teacher vacancies this academic year are being filled by qualified substitutes.

On Wednesday, he noted, just 125 substitutes were found to replace 268 absent teachers.  "Principals," he said, "are having to make do" by assigning office staff, pulling teacher assistants out of their classrooms, even filling in themselves to cover the vacancies.

Mr. Vetrano then offered an incentive-pay proposal that board member Al Byrd suggested wasn't "aggressive enough." As a result, he and the other board members approved an expansion of Mr. Vetrano's proposal to offer $25 per day additional pay for substitutes who work at least five days a month, $30 a day for at least 10 days monthly, and $35 for 15 days and more.

Basic substitute-teacher pay in Johnston County is currently $103 per day for licensed teachers, $80 for unlicensed substitutes.

Chief of Finance Stephen Britt estimated cost of the incentive pay plan this school year would likely exceed $300,000, to be paid by federal COVID-relief funds.

In other action following a closed session, the board approved a two-year contract assigning Tiffany Long to Smithfield-Selma High School as an assistant principal.


The online, stay-at-home option for 1,479 of 37,941 students enrolled in Johnston County's public schools is technically a "campus" with its own identity, along with its own principal and support staff.

Now it has its own logo and mascot as do all the county's traditional schools.

No, it doesn't field interscholastic athletic teams. But it can show some school spirit.



45% of Johnstonians are now fully vaccinated

The number vaccinated is 93,185, according to Wednesday's report from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. Johnston's 45% rate of residents fully vaccinated continues to lag behind North Carolina's 52% and the nation's 55%.

Meanwhile, the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's COVID Data Tracker continues to show Johnston County as a place of "High Community Transmission" based on numbers reported September 14-20: 826 new cases, 9.82% positive testing rate, 17 deaths, and 38 new hospital admissions.

VIEW the current list of vaccination clinics in Johnston County>

VIEW the current list of testing sites in Johnston County>


Case total
since 3-20 
(last week)
since 3-20 
(last week)

(last week) 

(last week)
93,185: 45%*
(91,441: 44%)
5,491,901: 52%*
(5,408,292: 52%*)
UNITED STATES 42,432,561
  182,012,343: 55%
(179,289,983: 55%)
WORLDWIDE 229,775,845
total doses given
* Percentage of total population (all ages)
Data provided by: County of Johnston at 5:12 p.m. September 21
N.C. Department of Health and Human Services at 11:55 a.m. September 22
Johns Hopkins University at 1:20 p.m. September 22

Johnston hospitals recognized for stroke treatment

From Johnston UNC Health Care
Johnston Health has received the American Heart Association’s SilverPlus Get With The Guidelines-Stroke Quality Achievement Award for its commitment to ensuring that stroke patients receive the most appropriate treatment according to nationally recognized, research-based guidelines.

Hospitals receiving the Silver Plus Achievement Award have reached an aggressive goal of treating patients with 85 percent or higher compliance to core standard levels of care as outlined by the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association for one calendar year.

Additionally, Johnston Health received the Heart Association’s Target: Type 2 Honor Roll award. To qualify for this recognition, hospitals must meet quality measures developed with more than 90% of compliance for 12 consecutive months for the “Overall Diabetes Cardiovascular Initiative Composite Score.” 

Johnston Health operates hospitals at Clayton and Smithfield (formerly Johnston Memorial) as part of the UNC Health Care System.

Retail sales jumped 20% in 2021's second quarter

Monthly reports from the N.C. Department of Revenue show Johnston County with retail sales totaling $692,583,414 during April, May, and June – up almost $116 million, or 20%, over sales of $576,596,859 for those three months a year ago.

At the same time, retail sales statewide totaled just over $50.8 million this past spring – a gain of 24% over sales of $40.9 million during last year's second quarter, which included the first few months of the coronavirus pandemic.

Even with the pandemic's restrictions, Johnston County retail sales have grown 33.4% over the past two years, based on the state's second-quarter reports.

VIEW the N.C. Department of Revenue's month-by-month statewide reports>


SSS drops conference opener to South, 21-14

Smithfield-Selma's Spartans, battling the undefeated Trojans from South Johnston High School during a rainy-night contest at Charles Tucker Stadium, fell a touchdown short of victory. The loss puts the Spartans' season record at 2-2.

After trailing 14-7 at halftime, SSS came back to tie the game in the third quarter, but South scored the only TD in the fourth quarter for the 21-14 final score. The Trojans gained 158 yards rushing and 208 passing for a total of 366. The Spartans had 141 yards rushing and 70 passing for a total of 211.

Next up for SSS is this season's Homecoming game Friday evening versus undefeated James B. Hunt High from Wilson County. Hunt beat winless Charles B. Aycock High 49-0 last Friday.

SSS and Hunt as well as South Johnston and Aycock are members of the new Quad County 3A Conference that also includes West Johnston, East Wake, Wilson's Fike High, and Southern Wayne. MORE SSS football details on MaxPreps website>



Johnston's County Commissioners approved spending $7,500 during their third-Monday meeting this week to take part in a feasibility study by the N.C. Department of Transportation for a missing link in the Mountains-to-Sea Trail along the Neuse River between Clayton and Smithfield.

READ MORE about that and other matters before the board Monday evening>



Saturday was the last day of restaurant service at Holt Lake Bar-B-Q and Seafood, a popular stopping place on US 301 South over the past four decades. "It is time to retire," owner Terry Barefoot announced in a Facebook post last week. "Thank you (customers) for all the love and support over the past 42.5 years. I have gained an extended family that I will be forever grateful for!" The restaurant rebounded twice from destructive fires – one in 1981, the other in 2010.


Johnston's fall festivals are making a comeback

That includes Benson's Mule Days this weekend (Friday-Sunday), Selma Railroad Days October 1-2, and Clayton's Harvest Festival October 27-31. Here are links to their complete rundowns of scheduled activities and entertainment:






Click on the name to read an obituary, usually posted by the funeral home

ROBERT HENRY BEACH JR., 77 – died September 22

TERESA JO WARD BAILEY, 73 – died September 17

LINDA FAYE BENTON, 67 – died September 17

ROBERT (ROBBY) MELTON LAWHON JR., 60 – died September 15



Schools endure shameful social-media threats

This announcement received yesterday afternoon from Johnston County Public Schools is worth sharing with readers of the Sun not so much as an alarm but as a piece of our current history in the making:

Administrators at Smithfield-Selma High, Corinth Holders High, Princeton Middle/High, and South Johnston High schools were made aware of separate threats made on social media Wednesday afternoon. Each school’s administration acted promptly, investigated immediately, and involved law enforcement.

The students and staff at these campuses did enter an exterior lockdown while our local law enforcement investigated these situations thoroughly. Students and staff at Smithfield Middle were placed on a brief perimeter lockdown due to the SMS’s proximity to Smithfield-Selma High. Our students and staff at all locations were safe at all times....

The Johnston County Sheriff’s Office investigated each of these threats separately, and each one was considered non-credible. Johnston County Public Schools will work with the Johnston County Sheriff’s Office to investigate these threats, and will prosecute to the fullest extent of the law....

Abuse of the pervasive technology known as "social media" will surely find a place in history books yet to be written about this tumultuous era. While it does an amazing job of keeping us connected with one another, its abuse does a disgusting job of keeping us divided with rampant misinformation and made-up "fake news."

The long-term question is: Will "social media" prove to be worth nothing more than a footnote, or an entire chapter, in the narrative of our times?


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