Everyone has big concerns about this weird, frustrating school year

Everyone has big concerns about this weird, frustrating school year
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The majority of Charlotte-Mecklenburg students haven’t seen the inside of a classroom in eight months.

And it’s been three months since CMS started a new school year from home, slowly phasing students back to learning in person.

Today was supposed to bring the return of middle-schoolers to in-person learning. But that’s not happening — on November 10 the school board voted to push them back because of a shortage in bus drivers.

Another setback in what’s been a tumultuous school year for CMS and every other school district. And as usual, not everyone agreed with how this one was handled. The vote to push the in-person start date for middle schools was 6-3. Those opposed wanted to account for the fact that more students are being driven to school during the pandemic, and therefore the normal number of bus routes may not be needed.

“We’ve got to get this right. I’m not going to vote for this tonight,” said District 1 board member Rhonda Cheek during the November 10 meeting. “We are letting them (students) down and I am so sorry.”

Some people believe the transition from virtual learning is happening too slow, while others believe it’s going too fast. And with serious consequences either way, it’s impossible to say who’s right.

South Mecklenburg High School rocks with messages “stay home, stay safe, stay kind” and “spread kindness not germs.”

The current plan: Right now elementary school students are split into two groups and learning in person twice a week, every week. Middle and high school students are scheduled to go back for in-person classes on January 5. They’ll be split into three groups — each will attend in-person classes one week followed by two weeks at home. All students still have the option to enroll into or out of Full Remote Academy.

From the school board: Sean Strain, who represents District 6 on the CMS Board of Education and has two CMS students, voted against pushing back the in-person start date for middle schoolers. He says the district is failing by not giving all students the chance to learn in-person sooner, and says the data and other North Carolina school districts show that it can be done safely.

“My biggest concern is that we fail to meet the needs of kids, and that we put our youth in a position that instead of a summer learning loss, we’re challenged with (it) on an annual basis that kids literally aren’t able to recover this lost time,” Strain said.

The CMS Covid metrics dashboard shows an updated case count within schools each week. During the week of November 7-13, 18 students and 30 staff members tested positive for Covid-19. That’s out of 41,688 in-person students and 19,106 teachers.

Still, other board members look at the data and come to different conclusions. Board chairperson Elyse Dashew says she understands the frustration from those who want to move to in-person classes faster, but believes a slow, measured approach is best.

“I really feel that your access to healthcare has a huge impact on how frightened you are by Covid,” she said.

“I think a lot of this comes down to what your personal experience is and what is the experience of the people in your circle, and that impacts how you see the metrics.”

She went on to say that what works in other school districts won’t necessarily work for CMS. Strain disagrees. He says data show that CMS has comparable class sizes to other districts, even smaller districts, in the state.

“I struggle with that when people make that statement,” Strain told the Agenda. “There is data point after data point after data point that refutes it.”

Both Dashew and Strain said they’ve heard from teachers who have serious concerns about teaching in-person.

“I do want to acknowledge that staff are really scared right now and really tired,” Dashew said of elementary school teachers who are back in classroom with students. “And I do think the hybrid is hard. Teaching kids in person while also teaching kids that are remote.”

The upside: Both board members had heard positive accounts about the return to in-person classes for elementary schools. They say students and teachers are proving to be resourceful and resilient.

CMS BOE

CMS’ November 10 Board of Education meeting was held virtually, as the governor lowered the indoor gathering limit form 25 to 10.

From CMS teachers: “It’s troubling to watch us move ahead with plans to bring more students back into our buildings as conditions worsen,” said CMS teacher and parent Erin Demund told the board at its November 10 meeting.

A few other teachers who spoke during the meeting said they learned about new cases within their school on the news. The district says its policy is to give a general notification that a new case has been found at the school and to give direct notification to those who are deemed close contacts of the person who tested positive.

“I’m speaking to you tonight on behalf of educators in this district who’ve been sent the resounding message from our district leadership of how dispensable we are,” CMS teacher Hayley Rowley said during the board meeting.

Kim Ivey works with exceptional children at South Charlotte Middle School. While her students were disappointed when the district voted to push back their in-person return, she was relieved.

“Certainly we’re here to serve our students and to make sure they have a good strong educational foundation, but we want to do that in the safest way possible,” Ivey said.

The 52-year-old, who has chronic asthma and parents who’ve had Covid, said she’s concerned about CMS’s plan for sending students and staff back to school.

“I think sitting down with us (school staff) and coming up with ways to answer the what ifs is certainly different from someone who’s in a district office who’s been removed from a classroom for ten or twelve years,” she said.

The upside: Ivey says she feels supported by her school’s administration and has been given the resources she needs to teach online as effectively as possible.

Do you think it's safe for K-12 students to go to school in-person?

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From CMS parents: Parents seem to be most divided on whether or not it’s safe to send kids back to school.

“What if board members understood that your personal risk tolerance is not the sole driver of your decisions as a leader?” parent Stacy Staggs asked the board. She went on to advocate for Plan C, all virtual learning, now in order to get to Plan A, in-person learning, sooner.

Other parents are having different conversations. Some asked the board to consider Plan A for K-5 students, who are still under Plan B, a mix of in-person and virtual learning. Others wondered why bars could open and middle and high schools couldn’t.

“So let’s just let an entire generation of kids fall behind. Let’s talk about equity. A whole year of kids are being failed,” CMS parent Luke Correll said in the comments.

The upside: Parents, similar to school board members and district officials, had high praise for teachers who have gone above and beyond to care for student needs.

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