'Responsible, necessary’: CMS approves plan to get students back into classrooms

'Responsible, necessary’: CMS approves plan to get students back into classrooms

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Some Charlotte-Mecklenburg School district leaders feel like it’s time to put children back in the classroom, and it seems a majority of parents agree.

On Wednesday night, the CMS board approved a plan for students to go back to in-person instruction. CMS voted to phase students into Plan B, which includes remote and in-person learning. The vote passed 6-3.

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When CMS transitions to Plan B, not all grades will return to the classroom at the same time. In fact, high schoolers could still be months away from getting back to some form of in-person learning.

Under Plan B, there will be four phases of reopening. The first kids to return to the classroom will be members of Bright Beginnings and Pre-K. The next phase will be Montessori Pre-K and grades K-5.

Phase 3 will include grades 6-8, and the last phase will be high schoolers.

At least three weeks will pass between phases, which means high schoolers won’t be back in class for a while.

All teachers will have to report two weeks prior to students returning.

Proposed phases to reopen CMS:

  • Pre-K students will return Oct. 12
  • K-5 students will return Nov. 2
  • Grades 6 through 8 will return Nov. 23
  • Grades 9 through 12 would return Dec. 14 for high school EOC testing
  • High school students would return for in-person Jan. 5

(View the calendar in reporter Joe Bruno’s tweet below)

CMS is busy getting the schools prepared for students to return.

“I want to make sure everyone hears this, loud and clear. Every educator in North Carolina and the United States would love to be back in our classrooms, like yesterday,” said CMS educator Amanda Thompson.

Officials said that only 62% of the schools in the first phase are ready to bring back students. CMS needs to make sure each classroom and common area is set up for social distancing, leaders said.

There are still 36 vacancies for school nurses in CMS.

When transportation resumes, there will be a maximum of 24 students on each bus, with one in each seat.

Students will have to use disposable cups or water bottles at water fountains. The district will buy 150,00 water bottles. Not every school has a bottle-filler station, but CMS is trying to get one or two in each building.

Officials are buying a face shield for every staff member.

CMS has spent $3.7 million on:

  • 66,000 bottles of hand sanitizer
  • 10,500 gallons of soap
  • 1.3 mil pairs of gloves
  • 155,00 face coverings and shields for staff
  • 48,000 face coverings for exceptional children and k-2 students
  • 35,000 alcohol wipes

The superintendent said the district is doing everything it can to make sure the return to learning is as safe as possible, but it’s not perfect.

“There is almost no scenario for which any school district or other organization can protect from all risk, especially with a disease so new to have so many unknowns,” Superintendent Earnest Winston said.

The Metrics Committee considered health measures such as active COVID-19 cases, PPE, cleaning supplies and upgraded air filters in schools. They also looked at staffing shortages.

One reason the district went with remote learning to start the year was that it was short bus drivers, custodians and nurses. More than 600 employees were also identified as “high risk” and were approved to work remotely.

Another metric district leaders looked at was the percent of positive cases. Last week, the school board unveiled a dashboard making it easy for families to know when schools are ready for reopening or need to be shut down.

The dashboard will be color-coded green, yellow and red. For example, the COVID-19 positive testing rate will be green for “all clear” once it’s at 5%. Currently, it’s at 5%, which is yellow for caution. And 10% or above is in the red.

One of the few categories in the red for CMS is nursing. There are 38 vacancies, which means there is not a nurse for every school. The district hopes to resolve that by the time the school doors open.

“A nurse in every building is the absolute least we need to be ready,” Thompson said.

Some parents told Channel 9 they’re tired of the metrics and it’s time for students to return to the classroom.

“You know that you are doing damage to these kids keeping them out of school, but it must be OK as long as your staff is not at risk," parent Meg Kemp said.

CMS reverses course, will re-open with full remote learning