CHARLOTTE — Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is preparing several reopening plans for when fall instructions start in seven weeks while waiting for Gov. Roy Cooper’s decision on a statewide approach.
Overwhelming, challenging and different are all adjectives that can be used to describe the three plans laid out by CMS leaders. The school board is preparing plans for a full reopening, partial reopening and full remote learning.
Students and parents can expect a wide range of changes no matter what plan is enacted.
“It is almost like somebody rubbed a magic bottle with a genie and got what they wished for with school being canceled because now we are really being deprived of a fundamental experience right now,” high school senior and student school representative Gabriel Schuhl said.
For transportation, bus capacity would, ideally, be limited. CMS leaders are calling for one person per seat. On a typical 72-person bus, only 24 children would be allowed to ride at a time. Under a full reopening plan, this scenario is not possible.
When students arrive at school, they can expect a temperature screening. The temperature checks will apply to anyone who wants to enter the building. Staff estimated each check will take 15 seconds per adult and 30 seconds per student. Students with a fever will be directed to an isolation room. Everyone else with a fever or COVID-like symptoms will be told to leave.
Inside the school, things will look different. All teachers and staff will be wearing masks. Middle and high school students will also need to wear face coverings. Elementary students will be encouraged to wear them but it would not be required at this point.
For lunch, there would be a limited menu. Self-service will not be an option and it is likely that the vending machines would be off-limits. Hand sanitizer stations will be dispersed throughout the school and Plexiglass will be installed in the front office.
“We have been hard at work developing a plan that considers the best thinking from the best minds in public health,” CMS Superintendent Earnest Winston said.
Cooper asked all school districts to prepare for three different scenarios: a full reopening, a partial reopening and remote learning. The governor was expected to announce a decision Wednesday but, instead, said it won’t come for a few more weeks.
“We’re continuing to get more input from teachers and parents, and we want to assimilate all of that and make a decision in the next couple of weeks,” Cooper said.
In Plan A, which is a full reopening, CMS leaders said screening for symptoms will take a while because it will involve every student. Some schools have upward of 3,000 students. Social distancing is not possible in the classroom in Plan A. And because there are so many students, bus capacity won’t be able to be limited.
In Plan B, which is a partial reopening, school capacity will be at a maximum of 50%. Only 12 pre-K and kindergarten students will be able to be in a classroom at the same time. For all other grades, there will be a maximum of 16 students. In that scenario, kids would rotate in and out of remote learning.
For pre-K through eighth grade, all grades rotate a third of students on an A, B, and C schedule, which means for every week in the classroom, students follow it with two weeks of remote learning. High school grades nine through 11 will rotate a third of students on an A, B, C week schedule. In-person learning will occur for four days with remote learning on Friday. Friday is when all 12th graders will have in-person instruction. The other four days of the week for seniors will be remote learning.
Plan C is all remote learning. There are also challenges with that scenario, ranging from food access to technology. But leaders are optimistic it will run smoother than before since teachers and students had to do that from March until the end of last school year. No matter what is decided, remote learning will be possible for all students to opt into if they are back inside in some capacity.
“No matter what the ultimate decision is made in terms of the three plans the state of North Carolina has asked us to develop, our students will be challenged to grow and develop to the best of their abilities. And our students, staff and families will be safe,” Winston said.
CMS only discussed the plans, and no votes were taken. CMS Board member Rhonda Cheek stressed that the Board is not leaning in any direction while they hold tight for a decision by the governor.
“We aren’t leaning,” Cheek said. “We are waiting.”
Jeremy Stephenson said he hopes school resumes to five days a week. He said his third-grader did not benefit from virtual learning.
“We don’t think she advanced much. During the year they had tests at the end of the year and she was marginally ahead of where she was before,” Stephenson said.
Other parents are already reaching out to local daycares and prep schools, looking for someone to potentially watch their kids, so they can go to work.
“Most of our questions have come from our current families, people who are here trying to figure out what they’re going to do,” said Amanda Peters, Director of Operations at Oakcrest Preparatory Academy.
Peters said her team is working on a plan to help families.
“If it is virtual we are going to try to take on some of those responsibilities so our families still have the opportunity to go to work,” Peters said.
But Stephenson is concerned for other families who may not be able to find or take advantage of those opportunities.
“Anything that has virtual learning is going to be a real mess for working parents who can’t teach and go to work,” Stephenson said.
Stephenson also mentioned a statement released from a pediatric group, which said keeping children out of school could lead to negative development and health consequences.
“It would be fun to see my friends again, my teachers again, have a good time,” Piedmont IB Middle School student Bobby Forrest said.
Forrest said he hopes he can reunite with his classmates in the fall. If he is able to, he and everyone in his grade may have to wear masks. Although it’s not his favorite thing, he said he would do it if it meant he could be back in school.
“With masks, it is hard to breathe and stuff, but I do get it because of safety precautions. That wouldn’t be my first go-to. If that is the only way, then I will wear a mask,” Forrest said.
Schuhl knows whatever is decided will be difficult. He thinks children will adapt to masks, and staff will be able to pull off temperature checks. He also hopes to be back in school this year if it is safe. He said remote learning works for some. But for many, there are challenges.
“I tutor math, and it is really hard to communicate with kids when you are doing it virtual,” Schuhl said.