CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Mecklenburg County’s youngest students returned to learning Tuesday, and that’s despite a push from some to keep Pre-K students at home this school year.
Tuesday night, parents, teachers and others tried to convince county commissioners MECK Pre-K to online learning hours after students had their first day of school in-person.
“We are thankful to have in-person learning,” parent Dionne Keenan said. “We have no concerns.”
“It is heartbreaking to watch the children in the classroom that cannot play with each other,” assistant teacher Deborah Clark said.
MECK Pre-K decided to reopen for the new school year with only in-person learning.
In order to ensure a safe and healthy learning environment, leaders said MECK Pre-K reduced classroom sizes to allow for social distancing in addition to starting regular check-ins with local and state health organizations.
Channel 9 could also see floor markers, and signs helping students on how to greet each other and encouraging them to social distance.
The first day of school was also delayed. Teachers returned on Aug. 17, but students will have a staggered entry schedule starting on Sept. 1.
Officials said they arrived at this decision after having extensive discussions with both Mecklenburg County and state health leaders.
They added that before the decision was made, they sent surveys to families and teachers asking for their feedback. According to the survey data, the majority expressed a desire to return to the classroom.
The data determined virtual Pre-K instruction would not be as effective as in-person learning. Officials said based on that, they will not be offering virtual or hybrid learning options unless the public health situation changes.
74% of teachers prefer remote learning now. If Pre-K operated in person, 75% would return and 25% said they did not want to come back.
Mecklenburg County Commissioner and UNC Charlotte professor of Education Susan Harden said she’s heard from several concerned Pre-K teachers.
“Some teachers are OK going back in person but many are not,” Harden said. “Some are extremely concerned about the health of their families. Many of them are caregivers for people in compromised health situations. Some of them have insurance. Some of them don’t.”
MECK Pre-K also decided to lift the income restrictions for the 2020-2021 school year in order to help families impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. To be eligible for the program, children only need to live in Mecklenburg County and be four years old on or before Aug. 31.
“We know that there is a lot of uncertainty in our community due to COVID-19,” says MECK Pre-K Executive Director Trinisha Dean. “The County Manager and I want to reassure families that MECK Pre-K is here for them no matter what, delivering on our mission to prepare young children for kindergarten.”
“I think we need to listen to teachers,” Harden said. “I’m very concerned that we have a high level of virus in our community. I think that it could lead to situations where you know, stop and start and stop and start, because we have infections.”
She's also concerned whether there's enough PPE and about not having an option for remote learning.
We reached out to MECK Pre-K who shared some of the state guidance they used in the decision-making process to reopen Pre-K facilities.
The guidance says, “We know that our children learn best when they have the opportunity to be together with their classmates and teachers. Our goals seek to provide as much stability and proven in-person instruction as possible as we navigate through the pandemic.”
They reopened Tuesday with smaller class sizes, enhanced cleaning illness monitoring and reporting procedures and daily health checks.
County Manager Dena Diorio said there are unknown costs for a virtual and hybrid model and warned some students may be at risk if the county moves away from fully in-person instruction.
“To take away our in-person high quality Pre-K seats to virtual, I think does a disservice to all the kids in the community,” Diorio said.
Some commissioners stressed there are other Pre-K programs in Mecklenburg County that offer a virtual option such as the state’s Pre-K program, which is starting off virtual.
County leaders decided to take the discussion for now.
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