Reopening schools: BOE gives CMS superintendent power to close individual schools

Reopening schools: BOE gives CMS superintendent power to close individual schools
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This story was last updated on November 30, 2020 at 4:18 p.m.

Latest: Superintendent Earnest Winston can now transition individual schools from in-person to virtual learning.

Here’s why: The board voted during an emergency meeting on November 24 after two CMS schools, Metro School and Charlotte Mecklenburg Academy, closed because a number of school staff were either quarantining due to exposure to someone with a confirmed Covid case or out on leave.

Individual schools can also be moved to remote learning if the health department deems necessary for Covid reasons, or if the school district and the health department together decide a school should be moved to virtual learning.

New plan for elementary schools: Starting on November 2, elementary students were split into two groups that attend classes in-person twice a week, every week. Group A attends in-person classes on Monday and Tuesday. Group B attends in-person classes on Thursday and Friday. All students will learn from home on Wednesdays.

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The plan does not impact elementary school students enrolled in Full Remote Academy. Families still have the opportunity to opt in or out of Full Remote Academy going into the next semester.

Virtual learning setup CMS

The plan for middle and high school: Originally middle schoolers were supposed to start in-person classes under Plan B on November 23. But, after a school bus driver shortage, their start date was moved back to January 5, which is also the in-person start date for high schoolers.

Both middle and high school students will be split into three groups on rotating schedules. Each group will attend in-person classes one out of every three weeks. Previously, this was the plan for elementary school students as well.

Here’s the full CMS schedule for moving to in-person learning:

  • Pre-K students returned on October 12 (their schedule is not rotational).
  • Elementary school students returned on November 2.
  • Middle school students will return on January 5.
  • High school students will return on January 5 for classes. (High schoolers will come back mid-December for testing.)

Students enrolled in Full Remote Academy will continue learning virtually (exceptions can be made for families with an urgent need to go back in-person) with the option to make changes for next semester.

[Related Agenda story: Everyone has big concerns about this weird, frustrating school year]

cms district

The backstory: Since the Covid-19 outbreak started in Charlotte, the school district and Board of Education considered and amended multiple back to school plans.

Superintendent Earnest Winston said staffing challenges across multiple departments, from custodians to bus drivers, compromised CMS’s ability to facilitate face to face instruction at the beginning of the school year. At that point, back in July, the district had approximately 50 custodial vacancies, 80 transportation vacancies, 40 school nurse vacancies, and 70 teacher vacancies.

As a result, the school board voted to move to all virtual learning. The district’s all-virtual plan did make a very small number of exceptions for students with special needs that prevent them from online learning. The all virtual plan also encouraged teachers to teach remotely from their classrooms.

“The safety of our students and staff take priority over everything else,” superintendent Earnest Winston said during an emergency board meeting on July 30. “Remote is our best option right now.”

Before the move to all remote learning, CMS considered a two-week orientation period where students would attend classes in person for three or four days to meet their teachers and learn how to use their virtual learning technology.

[Related Agenda story: CMS estimates 18,000 students could still need internet access]

Here are some of the Plan B requirements students and staff have to follow. Find the full NCDHHS safety guide for schools, here.

Masks: All students and staff — even those in elementary school — will be required to wear face masks. (There will be exceptions for health reasons.) This requirement includes classrooms, buses, and playgrounds.

Cleaning: Schools are required to monitor students to ensure they’re properly washing and sanitizing their hands. Schools should also carve out additional time for hand washing. They must also supply hand sanitizer at all building entrances, exits, cafeterias, and classrooms. The state requires increased cleaning of frequently touched areas such as door handles, toilet handles, playground equipment, and water fountains.

Screenings required: Either parents or school staff must conduct daily temperature checks for all students entering school facilities. The state defines a fever as a temperature over 100.4. The state guidance requires schools isolate symptomatic students who should be monitored by an adult who’s at least six feet away.

Transportation: Only 24 CMS students will be allowed on each bus. The state guidance says schools should “clean and disinfect transportation vehicles regularly.” Students who get sick during the day will not be allowed to use group transportation to get home. Schools should create plans to get these sick students home.

Students are not allowed to share school bus seats. Exceptions may be made for family members, though.

It’s recommended that the schools designate an adult other than the driver for each bus to help screen students and to help monitor them during the drive.

If you’re at high risk: Schools are required to make accommodations for students with special health needs. They must also create a process for families to self-identify themselves as high-risk and “address requests for alternative learning arrangements or work re-assignments.”

nc school bus closeup

What about private schools?

The area’s private schools often follow what public schools do. But they don’t have to — as is the case with snow days, for instance. Many have, like public schools, considered various options that include a full return to in-person classes, a blend of virtual and in-person classes, and all virtual learning. Ultimately, so far at least, area private schools have opted for a mix of in-person and virtual learning.

What about sports?

The North Carolina High School Athletic Association released a sports calendar for the upcoming school year. It pushes each sport’s season back with the earliest starting in November and the latest starting in April. Football, for example, will have practices starting in February.

[Related Agenda story: Why the upcoming high school sports season could be life changing for CMS student-athletes]


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