CHARLOTTE — The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Metrics Advisory Committee met Thursday to discuss measures to be used to determine when and how to reopen schools.
The list is long, but officials provided a snapshot of the measures being considered by CMS and health experts, beyond what Mecklenburg County Health data trends show.
From a facility standpoint, school officials are working to upgrade air filters in all schools to better catch more airborne particles. Personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies are also on the list.
“I’m pleased to report that we are almost 100% with our initial efforts of provisioning,” said Carol Stamper, CMS chief operations manager. “What we need to follow here and what we need to ensure is that we can continue and sustain this effort.”
Staffing is another major piece of the puzzle. CMS is down about 27 custodial staff and 16 bus drivers. There are nursing vacancies that the county health department is working to fill.
There are 641 employees, including 500 teachers, who have been identified as high-risk for COVID-19 and are approved to work remotely, and there are 86 requests pending.
“I think that it’s important to note that as decisions are made regarding reopening, we should account for the potential of these employees not being on-site in the classroom. Recognizing that if we reopen, that the number of employees that apply for FFCRA leave and or alternate work requests and schedules, that number could increase,” said Kollette Rogers, CMS executive director of Total Rewards.
Randolph Middle Teacher Steve Oreskovic, who is on the committee, brought up another concern.
“I think we need to look at not just when it’s the time to go back to school in person, but is it going to be feasible to keep us in school in person?” Oreskovic said. “Going back is one thing. You have lots of holidays coming up, and I suspect there are going to be surge after every one of those holidays. If the board makes a decision to bring us back too soon, that’s going to cause trauma. That’s going to cause confusion over and above what the kids are seeing just being at home trying to do virtual learning.”
Another metric district officials are looking at is monitoring the percentage of staff trained on symptom screening and what to do with positive or potential cases.
They will create a response team to provide support for people who contract the virus to track them and the numbers of people quarantined.
A draft document shared with Channel 9 from a Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools source shows the early thinking and plans for what a phased-in approach to bringing students back to classrooms could look like.
The document lays out three models with phases and students coming in on an alternating schedule, so capacity is limited.
The first model starts with pre-K through second-grade students as well as identified students with disabilities. Grades 3-5 would then be in Phase 2, and so forth.
The second model is similar but with fewer phases. Starting with pre-K through second-grade, it includes certain students with disabilities, along with grades 6-9.
The third model prioritizes students with the highest needs, such as students with disabilities, English learners and those with housing insecurity.
Eyewitness News reporter Elsa Gillis spoke with Board of Education Chairwoman Elyse Dashew about the process and plans.
“Staff have begun the process. They’ve shared their early thinking with board members,” Dashew said. “But they have a lot more work to do internally.”
She said that includes speaking with shareholders, principals and educators.
“We’re living in a divisive time, but something everybody agrees upon is that we need to get our children back into their school buildings as soon as it’s safe and the question is, ‘When is it safe?’ That decision needs to be informed by data,” Dashew said.
She told Channel 9 there will be a committee meeting Thursday focused on metrics. She said the committee should have recommendations by the end of the month.
A timeline is still a big question for many. The draft plan states the phased-in approach would begin no sooner than Sept. 14 -- something Channel 9 asked about being an actual possibility.
“What I heard from staff was they did not think they could do this any earlier than Sept. 14,” Dashew said. “That doesn’t mean that Sept. 14 is the day. I think a lot of this will depend upon the data that comes out of the Metrics Advisory Committee and what they recommend.”
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