CMS votes to move all students to full remote learning until mid-January

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education has voted Tuesday in an emergency meeting, 8-1, to move all students to full remote learning.

CMS leaders said all students, including Pre-K and students with disabilities, will move to full remote instruction until Jan. 19 because of “emergency health conditions that will impact the district’s ability to safely provide in-person instruction to all students.”

District leaders called for the emergency meeting Monday to consider changing the way some of the most vulnerable students learn.

Pre-K students returned to in-person learning on Oct. 13, while some students with disabilities have been learning in the classroom since Sept. 29.

In his decision to recommend all remote learning, CMS Superintendent Earnest Winston said the menace of COVID-19 continues, and the district is seeing signs of community spread in greater numbers.

He also referenced a letter from Mecklenburg County Health Director Gibbie Harris, who supported the decision to delay in-person schooling until Jan. 19. Harris cited the “specific circumstances of the current data trends and the holiday season” as reasons for her support.

The district started its phased return to the classroom in October but after virus trends started moving in the wrong direction, officials voted for students in kindergarten through 12th grade to go back to full-remote learning until Jan. 19.

Some students with disabilities and Pre-K students continued to learn in the classroom.

Pre-K teachers and teachers in the exceptional children department reached out to Channel 9′s education reporter Elsa Gillis and said they were concerned that they were still in the classroom.

There was also a petition circulating -- with over 1,200 signatures -- saying that if the district believed the health metrics demand a temporary return to remote learning for student safety then it should apply to all students.

It also said students who are still in the classroom and their teachers must work in close physical proximity and are less able to follow virus safety protocols.

Currently, the school district is reporting more than 100 new COVID-19 cases. Officials said 120 of its schools have at least one COVID case, with one school experiencing a cluster. In total, 62 students and 96 teachers tested positive between Dec. 14 and 18.

District officials said there are 63 classrooms with students and teachers in special education impacted by COVID-19 and 40 Pre-K classrooms. CMS said they have seen an increasing number of staff and students who have been impacted by the virus.

CMS decision emotional for teachers, parents

The difference of in-person instruction compared to all remote has been night and day for Karen Doepker’s son, Jack, who has autism.

“He was having multiple breakdowns, like really, really bad meltdowns every day,” Doepker said.

That changed drastically in-person. 

“He is really getting that social emotional support that he needs, he’s getting the structure that he needs. He’s being pushed academically,” she said.

She says the district’s latest decision hurts.

“I’m mad, sad, I’m really numb,” Doepker said.

She said her son needs the in-person learning to balance it with safe decisions to protect others in their school and community.

“We are very, very careful when we go out wearing our masks,” Doepker said. “We wear them for ourselves. We’re also wearing them because we know that the decision we make impacts other people.”

She wishes the district would close individual schools or classrooms to in-person learning if necessary, as opposed to the whole district.

“I know it’s unprecedented, but I think we’ve got to bring some normalcy back to everyday life and try to live a new normal in this pandemic and school has to be a part of that,” she said.

Doepker said she hopes that people respect each other’s opinions and decisions when it comes to the in-person versus remote debate.

That’s something Pre-K teacher Kennisha Moten also spoke about after CMS’ decision. She understands that there are differing thoughts on how to handle how students learn and keeping people safe.

“I want to be there, but I want it to be safe for the students and the teachers,” Moten said.

She’s relieved at the school board’s decision and thinks they made the right call.  She said she was hurt after they initially decided to move all students remote, except Pre-K students and some students with disabilities.

“I understood the importance of our students being in person but also our main concern is to keep our students and families safe,” Moten said. “I do believe that all students need to be in the classroom, taught in-person but at this time, I just don’t think it’s a safe choice.”

“I do believe that all students need to be in the classroom, taught in-person, but at this time, I just don’t think it’s a safe choice to be in-person,” Moten said.

Moten described what’s it like right now in class.

“It has been a relief to have students in-person but it has also been very emotional, you know? We’re very hands on with our students,” Moten said. “We couldn’t do our job if we were not hands on at this age. We don’t have a lot of social distancing.”

[WSOC SPECIAL SECTION: RETURN TO LEARNING]

Moten said she’s had six students in-person, but she has colleagues teaching classrooms with 18 students.

She’s hopeful two weeks of full-remote will allow time for people to quarantine after the holidays and bring the numbers down.

“I would like to be back in the classroom on Jan. 19 until the end of the school,” Moten said.