CMS delays middle schoolers' return to classrooms due to staffing shortage

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools will delay bringing middle schoolers back to in-person learning because of issues with transportation staffing.

“We know this is difficult for families who were planning on sending their middle schoolers back before winter break,” said Board Chairperson Elyse Dashew in a news release. “But we remain committed to ensuring the health and safety of our students as they travel to and from school, as well as in the classroom. Social distancing on our school buses is essential to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Therefore, the Board felt this change was necessary.”

>> The full plan for returning to in-person instruction for students in grades 6 through 8 can be found here.

Over the last couple of weeks, officials have said there have been increased vacancies and bus drivers on leave. An added challenge to staffing is that they must maintain a social-distancing capacity of a maximum of 24 middle school students per bus.

The plan is to have students in grades 6-8 who go to a K-8 school head back on Nov. 30, which is a week later than planned.

Those students will also attend on the same A/B schedule as elementary students in that school, meaning Group A will attend school in-person on Monday and Tuesday and Group B will attend on Thursday and Friday. All students will learn remotely on Wednesdays.

For all other grade 6-8 students who attend a traditional middle school, (schools with students in sixth, seventh and eighth grade only) they will return starting Jan. 5, along with high school students on the A, B, C weekly rotation.

The vote passed 6-3 Tuesday night.

The meeting came after the district reported 40 new COVID-19 cases last week among students and staff. There are no clusters, but during a 14-day period, 42 schools had at least one positive case.

>> CLICK HERE to see the CMS Metrics Dashboard

The district is also reporting staff shortages in several key areas. Child nutrition staffing is at 84%, nursing at 75% and transportation, while all routes are staffed, is at about 84%.

Although there are currently enough drivers to staff all the bus routes, there are concerns the district does not have enough drivers to meet the one student per seat distancing requirement. While elementary school students aren’t held to that standard, middle schoolers would be.

High school parent Hollis Blank said she’s paying attention to all the district’s announcements.

“Absolutely, since my older students, we’re still waiting to go back, we’re the last phase of that. Of course, I’m on pins and needles seeing if any other changes, downgrade affects the older grades," she said.

Also during the board meeting, CMS Superintendent Earnest Winston presented more district action items related to the return to in-person instruction. The first was a change to the district’s timeline for families to transfer students into or out of the Full Remote Academy.

Any CMS families who want to transfer their student, regardless of grade, from in-person instruction to the Full Remote Academy or from the Full Remote Academy to in-person instruction for the second semester must inform their school of the decision no later than Nov. 30.

To make that notification, families will receive a survey beginning Nov. 16. Families can indicate whether students will attend in-person or remote for the second semester that begins Jan. 5, 2021. The survey also will include a question for families of students attending in-person regarding the need for CMS-provided transportation.

All families whose students are currently enrolled to attend in-person, or who intend for their students to transfer from the Full Remote Academy to in-person learning for the second semester must let the district know if they require morning and/or afternoon bus transportation.

Completion of the survey to notify the district of intent to transfer into or out of the Full Remote Academy and for eligible students to opt-in for transportation must be complete by Nov. 30.

New tool helps parents pinpoint which CMS schools have COVID-19 cases

With over 41,000 students and 19,000 staff members back in CMS schools, many parents are wondering what the COVID-19 numbers look like.

Last week, there were 11 new virus cases in students -- an increase in 5 from the week prior. There were 29 new cases among staff -- an increase of 8.

″We believe based on our analysis that these cases are not occurring in the school building but they’re coming from external outside the school building," said Kathy Elling with CMS.

The update was encouraging for parents we spoke to.

“I think that’s great, I think the kids should go back to school, practice social distancing, wear their masks,” parent Hollis Blank said.

The district has also launched a new tool that parents can check out. The Weekly CMS Covid Breakdown Report will pinpoint which schools have virus cases.

The readiness dashboard, listing the various factors the district is measuring and analyzing as it reopens schools, continues to show a mixed bag.

Hollis is hopeful the phases to bring back students stay on track.

“It depends on each individual kid I assume some are OK learning at home, and I think mine are OK but I think socially the kids need to get back to a routine and out of the house and back to school,” she said.