Thousands of CMS students return to full-remote learning

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Thousands of children in Charlotte are back at home learning on computers and tablets after the CMS Board of Education voted to return to full-remote learning.

The district abruptly returned to all-remote learning last week because officials are concerned about community spread and rising cases across Mecklenburg County.

The CMS Board of Education voted, 6-3, last Tuesday night to return to full-remote learning.

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K-12 students will return to remote learning from Dec. 14 through Jan. 15 and return to the classroom on Jan. 19.

On Monday, Channel 9′s Elsa Gillis spoke to a father who said moving back to all-remote learning is a bummer for his CMS third grader. He shared some of the difficulties she has experienced.

“I think the most emotional impact I see from her is when she just doesn’t understand a subject, and I don’t know what it is either,” said Adam Hummell. “And it’s just frustrating for her because she doesn’t know how to submit something or doesn’t quite get an answer ... So those are tough things to work through, but we’re all going to get through it.”

Hummel said he’s fortunate to work from home and be able to go with the flow, and is focusing on understanding what others are going through.

“Everyone’s situation is different, he said. “We are fortunate to not have really big impacts as a result of being home or being in school, but that doesn’t mean that everybody doesn’t have impacts in their life. Whatever the decision is, just be compassionate and have empathy for others and we’ll get through it.”

High school and middle school students who are scheduled to come to school for testing Dec. 14 through Dec. 18 will still be expected to do so. A student can opt-out for now and receive an incomplete but will be permitted to take a makeup exam as long as it is by June 1.

Athletes who receive an incomplete could be ineligible if they do not meet GPA requirements.

Students with disabilities will continue to have equal access to remote instruction and in-person instruction. The school board’s decision also does not change instruction for pre-kindergarten students.

“We believe it is in our best interest for the health and safety of our students to return them to remote instruction,” CMS Superintendent Earnest Winston said. “Discussions with public health experts indicate expectations of more increases in community spread of COVID-19 in the weeks ahead. While these experts have not said that in-person learning is a significant contributor to spread, as cases rapidly increase in the community, schools will feel the impact. We are taking this step proactively.”

CMS staff presented a chart emphasizing that the case rate per 100,000 and test positivity rate are both in the red category in Mecklenburg County. CMS leaders expressed concerns about the substantial community spread.

Those fears took precedent even though CMS is not currently seeing any clusters related to COVID-19 and the county’s medical director said children under 10 are low risk.

Students will return to school buildings on Jan. 19 according to their rotation schedules. K-5, K-8 and grades 6-12 schools will return with Rotation A students.

The motion also said that unused local leave for employees, which was set to expire Dec. 31, will now be extended to Jan. 15, 2021.

In Cabarrus County, all students have returned to remote learning until Jan. 19 as well. The county as a whole has been dealing with increasing community spread.

Students struggling, parents frustrated

Winston said an increasing number of students are receiving Ds and Fs. He said, like many school districts across the country, CMS is seeing an increasing number of students struggling academically.

“All hope is not lost,” Winston said. “If you have received a failing grade in the first quarter, it does not mean you will fail the entire semester.”

Pre-K students are least at risk for contracting COVID-19 and the greatest risk for loss of education time, which is why Pre-K is remaining in-person, said Dr. Matthew Hayes, deputy superintendent.

“None of us wants to put our kids back behind a computer screen instead of in the classroom with a live teacher,” Board Chair Elyse Dashew said. “But the health and safety of our students and staff come first -- and the COVID-19 metrics indicate that the number of infections is going up and will continue to do so for a while. So we will return to remote learning for K-12 students.”

University of North Carolina at Charlotte professor Dr. Drew Polly says it is easy for parents and students to get overwhelmed.

He said keep communication with teachers open and focus on one task at a time.

“Not saying to the students, here’s 1,2,3,4,5,6 that you have to do, but really let’s do this after we accomplish this let’s take a break, have a little balance,” he said.

Polly says informal learning is huge.

For young students specifically, he recommends checking out the device-free activity ideas that the state department of public instruction has available.

“Things that kids can go outside, or kids can do around the house that are more about discovery -- looking at the world around you, asking questions,” Polly said.

He said certain card and board games can teach problem solving and interpersonal skills and also also suggests spending time with books.

“Doing a little bit of shared reading in which you’re both reading something and stopping occasionally to talk about what you’ve read,” he said.

CMS students started their first day of school on Aug. 17 under Plan C, everyone learning remotely.

Then on Sept. 29, students in the exceptional children’s program returned to the classroom. This was followed by Pre-K students on Oct. 12. Kindergarten through fifth-grade students went back Nov. 2.

Middle school students who attend the K-8 schools returned on Nov. 30. Traditional middle school students and high school schools were scheduled to go back on Jan. 5 after Christmas break.

The decision is something parents are divided on and many made their feelings known to the school board Tuesday night. Parents and students gathered before the meeting, urging leaders not to move back to remote learning.

“I have a 6th-grader who was also challenged going from elementary to middle school. This has just compounded it ten-fold,” said one mother. “He’s gone from being an A/B student to failing -- and remote learning just doesn’t work for him.”

Parent Phillip Sherrill said his family is keeping a close eye on the county and district numbers.

“My wife follows the numbers a lot more than I do,” Sherrill said. “She gives me updates but we try to make sure we take every safety precaution that we can to ensure the safety of the children without going overboard.”

For now, the Sherrills have decided to keep their three CMS students learning remotely.

“As far as schools, we kind of want to see how things work first before we decided, ‘OK, we’re gonna put them back,’” he said.

It’s a tight rope many parents are walking. CMS released its latest virus data Monday, and there are 119 schools with at least one positive case and 74 schools with two or more positive cases.

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As Mecklenburg County sees community spread, so does the district. In recent weeks there has been an uptick in the number of schools with at least one positive case.

There have not been clusters or high amounts of cases in any one school, which supports what we have heard from state health officials that they’re not seeing schools as a big source of spread.

As far as who is getting COVID-19, as of Monday, there were 67 new student cases and 78 new staff cases. The number of student cases didn’t change from the last report, but the number of staff cases dropped from 94. However, the last report was taken over a longer time frame.