CMS board votes to keep students in full remote learning for another month

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The CMS School Board voted Thursday, 8-1, to maintain the district’s current plan of fully remote learning until at least Feb. 12 with students returning on Feb. 15 at the earliest.

The board decided pre-K, elementary, K-8 and students with disabilities will return to in-person learning on Feb. 15. Middle and high school students’ return date will be Feb. 22. Teachers will return the Thursday before students return.

Previously, all students were scheduled to return to in-person instruction on Jan. 19.

“None of us wants to delay our students’ return to classrooms,” said Board Chair Elyse Dashew. “But the metrics do not support a safe return right now. We have considered the directive issued by Public Health Director Gibbie Harris in making this decision, but the decision must be -- and has been -- made by us, the elected members of the Board of Education.”

A county health directive released earlier this week recommends full remote learning until Feb. 2, which is when CMS will reevaluate the situation.

The COVID-19 test positive rate in Mecklenburg County is currently at 16%.

The board decided that there will be no extracurricular activities until Feb. 15 at the earliest.

CMS Eats @ Home will continue weekly meal bundle distribution at current sites each Wednesday.

Football games still a possibility

The first practice of the spring football season is less than one month away, so there is a possibility teams can play.

“Just trying to stay positive and stay blessed, and hopefully things go the right way,” said Andrew Bookman, Myers Park High School senior captain.

A ruling by Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools on Thursday prohibits athletics from starting until Feb. 15. The wait has been agonizing for Bookman and his fellow team captain, Henry Jonas.

“It’s just sad to see that the season might not even happen at all after all the work we’ve been putting in,” Jonas said. “I want to see it happen.”

Sports teams who have already reached the postseason, like Myers Park’s undefeated girls’ volleyball team, will be allowed to continue. However, the basketball team, which is still in the regular season, can’t resume until next month at the earliest.

“Watching everybody else play their sports right now, and watching myself sit back at my house wondering if I’m going to play at all,” Jonas said. “It’s disheartening to see. I feel for them. They’re going through the same thing we are, but I really wish we were back out there.”

There is still a chance they can play. The school board will review the metrics again in about three weeks and meet on Feb. 9 to figure out what comes next.

Bookman and Jonas are just asking for one more game.

“We pray that we get to play that last game,” Bookman said. “We wish to have a senior night, and we wish to have those beautiful moments you might not ever get to see again.”

Parents anxious, confused over uncertainty of school schedule

Parents have mentally prepared for in-person learning to return, and next Tuesday high schoolers were supposed to come back for the first time in almost a year.

Channel 9 has heard from many parents who’ve been confused and anxious -- emotions Jamey Underwood and Brannon Brooks can relate to.

“It is a lot of back and forth,” said Underwood.

She has two first-graders at home and told Channel 9 it has been emotional -- as it has for many families.

“I feel that my children should have been going to school in September,” she said. “If they want to take a pause right now because of the numbers in the community, I work in health care, I completely understand that. My frustration lies in that my children did not go to school when the virus was low.”

Noting the recent Duke University and UNC study that found a very low rate of in-school transmission during late summer and fall, Underwood said she doesn’t feel schools should’ve been included in the directive -- and also raised another concern.

“The bars are still open. The breweries are still open. There’s no mandate that we stay home so people are still going to do those activities and the kids are the ones that are going to hurt,” she said.

“It’s choppy,” said another parent, Fatashia Cousar. “It’s very unorganized. That’s the aggravating part. That’s why, to be honest, it’s hard for me to keep up. One minute it’s this, one minute it’s that.”

Though Cousar was planning on sending her daughter back to school in-person next week, from a safety perspective, she doesn’t disagree with the county directive recommending everyone stay remote another three weeks.

It’s the last minute changes, though, that can be challenging to manage, she said.

“I feel like keep them out as long as you have to for safety reasons but just stay on track,” she told Channel 9. “Don’t say, ‘Yeah, we’re gonna do it.’ It’s also disappointing for the kids because they’re excited, they’re hyped to go back to school to see their friends.”

Mecklenburg County Public Health Director Gibbie Harris recommends virtual learning for the next three weeks.

Harris said many schools in the county have had success throughout the pandemic, but people can get the virus outside of school and bring it into the building.

Harris added that they want to see children back in school and they want to see the community prioritizing having children back in schools.

She doesn’t want the directive to expand beyond three weeks.

“If we, as a community, can stick to these recommendations for the next three weeks, we believe it will help us get our numbers back under control,” Harris said.

The directive is causing a lot of confusion and frustration for parents whose kids have been shuffled around constantly since the pandemic began.

“Unfortunately, with the current situation we have in our community, people are being exposed outside of the school system and have the ability to bring this virus into the schools,” Harris said.

Harris said the cases they are seeing in school are quite often related to outside activity, and for that reason she wants the community to prioritize keeping students in school -- which means limiting other activities.

‘Stop dangling carrots’: CMS parents, teachers frustrated after months of back and forth

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Board of Education met Tuesday night to talk about students’ learning plans for this semester.

CMS plans to keep students fully remote until Jan. 19 but with a new directive issued Tuesday from Mecklenburg County’s Health director Gibbie Harris saying it’s not safe to go back to in-person learning, a return to the classroom could be pushed back once again.

According to the directive, residents should utilize full-virtual options for work, school and any other activity where in-person activity is not required. But some parents disagree.

Dozens of parents and teachers gave CMS board members passionate feedback during the meeting Tuesday night. While a final decision about whether students will go back to the classroom next week was not made Tuesday, officials said there will be an emergency meeting on Thursday.

”Stop dangling carrots. Kids need structure. Parents need structure,” parent Stephanie Bertorelli said.

CMS released its latest COVID-19 numbers on Monday, revealing dozens of new COVID-19 cases among students and staff.

From Jan. 4 through Jan. 8, the district saw 46 new cases among students and 98 new cases among staff. 82 of the district’s 177 schools have at least one student or staff member who tested positive last week.

CMS teacher Franchone Bey said she is trying her best to protect herself from catching the virus.

“I’m concerned about my safety because I’ve been doing the best I can do to avoid putting myself in high risk situations,” Bey said.

First-grade teacher Marie Palasciano said she feels safe.

“I feel safe at school. I feel safe teaching every day in my classroom,” Palasciano said. “No job is 100% risk-free.”

CMS teacher Michelle McConnell said she’s just tired of the back and forth.

“We are desperate for some consistency. My teammates and I come up with amazing ways to keep our students engaged,” McConnell said. “However, we do hold back on our planning because we don’t know. Literally today we said, ‘I don’t know. Are we going to be here, are we going to be at school?’”

A new study from Duke University and UNC found the spread of COVID-19 in schools is relatively low. Researchers looked at 11 school districts, including several in the Charlotte area like Hickory City Schools and Gaston County.

More than 90,000 students and staff took part in a combination of in-person and remote learning from mid-August to late October. There were just 32 cases of in-school spread during that period and no instances of student infecting an adult.

“There’s not a medical reason to stay out of Plan B,” Dr. Daniel Benjamin from Duke School of Medicine said. “Really, do you have the leadership in place where you’re going to get these protocols together, you’re going to execute them.”

Researchers point to strict protocols for limiting the spread like wearing masks, social distancing, hand washing, monitoring symptoms daily and temperature checks.

The CMS School Board said there are a number of factors it must consider before allowing students to return to the classroom.