This story was last updated on October 1, 2020 at 7:45 p.m.
Latest: During an Emergency Meeting on Thursday night, the CMS Board of Education unanimously approved a new in-person learning plan for elementary school students.
New plan for elementary schools: The board’s decision followed Governor Cooper’s announcement that elementary schools could move into Plan A: moderate social distancing.
Starting on November 2, elementary students will attend classes in-person twice a week every week opposed to five days one week out of every three weeks. K-5 grade students will now be split into two groups instead of three. Group A will attend in-person classes on Monday and Tuesday. Group B will attend in-person classes on Thursday and Friday. All students will learn from home on Wednesdays.
Each school principal will determine how to condense the original three groups into two. District officials estimated that process would take about two weeks.
The new plan will not impact elementary school students enrolled in Full Remote Academy. Families will still have the opportunity to opt in or out of Full Remote Academy going into the next semester.
Moving to Plan B: The original decision to move to Plan B for all CMS students came after a month of all virtual learning under Plan A.
“We will take a phased approach that demonstrates caution, courage, and compassion,” said CMS superintendent Earnest Winston during the September 16 Board of Education meeting. “Having our students and teachers together in classrooms is the best way to ensure equity and educational opportunity.”
The district’s plan involves four phases and rotational schedules. Elementary school students will be split into two groups that attend classes twice a week every week. Students in grades 6-12 will be split into three groups with one week of in-person learning followed by two weeks of virtual learning.
Students and teachers will be slowly phased back into schools starting with pre-K:
- Pre-K students will return on October 12 (their schedule will not be rotational).
- Elementary school students will return on November 2.
- Middle school students will return on November 23.
- High school students will return on January 5 for classes. (High schoolers will come back mid-December for testing.)
In a separate vote during the September 16 meeting, the school board voted to allow the superintendent to furlough hourly employees if necessary.
Students enrolled in Full Remote Academy will continue learning virtually (exceptions can be made for families with an urgent need to go back in-person) with the option to make changes for next semester.
By the numbers: The district has spent over $3.7 million on cleaning and Covid-safety supplies. CMS has to adhere to statewide Covid safety standards for cleaning and social distancing.
On September 16 the district reported that 62 percent of schools used by pre-K students were ready for students under the new Covid requirements. 42 percent of all schools in the district are ready to welcome back students. CMS officials say getting the remaining schools ready won’t take much time.
There are 36 schools (plus three other facilities) that have HVAC systems without outside air capabilities; outside air circulation is important in combating the spread of Covid-19. There are also school nurse and janitorial vacancies.
Since the Covid-19 outbreak started in Charlotte, the school district and Board of Education have considered and amended multiple back to school plans.
Superintendent Earnest Winston said staffing challenges across multiple departments, from custodians to bus drivers, compromised CMS’s ability to facilitate face to face instruction at the beginning of the school year. At that point, back in July, the district had approximately 50 custodial vacancies, 80 transportation vacancies, 40 school nurse vacancies, and 70 teacher vacancies.
As a result, the school board voted to move to all virtual learning.
The district’s all-virtual plan did make a very small number of exceptions for students with special needs that prevent them from online learning. The all virtual plan also encouraged teachers to teach remotely from their classrooms.
“The safety of our students and staff take priority over everything else,” superintendent Earnest Winston said during an emergency board meeting on July 30. “Remote is our best option right now.”
Before the move to all remote learning CMS considered a two-week orientation period where students would attend classes in person for three or four days to meet their teachers and learn how to use their virtual learning technology.
It was earlier this summer when the governor first announced the different back to school plans that CMS outlined a rotational schedule for going back to school. This rotational plan is similar to what the district will implement over the next few months.
[Related Agenda story: CMS estimates 18,000 students could still need internet access]
Here are some of the Plan B requirements students and staff will have to adhere to once they return. Find the full NCDHHS safety guide for schools, here.
Masks: All students and staff — even those in elementary school — will be required to wear face masks. (There will be exceptions for health reasons.) This requirement includes classrooms, buses, and playgrounds. The state will supply five reusable masks for all students and staff.
Cleaning: Schools are required to monitor students to ensure they’re properly washing and sanitizing their hands. Schools should also carve out additional time for hand washing. They must also supply hand sanitizer at all building entrances, exits, cafeterias, and classrooms. The state requires increased cleaning of frequently touched areas such as door handles, toilet handles, playground equipment, and water fountains.
Screenings required: Either parents or school staff must conduct daily temperature checks for all students entering school facilities. The state defines a fever as a temperature over 100.4. The state guidance requires schools isolate symptomatic students who should be monitored by an adult who’s at least six feet away.
Transportation: Only 24 CMS students will be allowed on each bus. The state guidance says schools should “clean and disinfect transportation vehicles regularly.” Students who get sick during the day will not be allowed to use group transportation to get home. Schools should create plans to get these sick students home.
Students are not allowed to share school bus seats. Exceptions may be made for family members, though.
It’s recommended that the schools designate an adult other than the driver for each bus to help screen students and to help monitor them during the drive.
If you’re at high risk: Schools are required to make accommodations for students with special health needs. They must also create a process for families to self-identify themselves as high-risk and “address requests for alternative learning arrangements or work re-assignments.”
What about private schools?
The area’s private schools often follow what public schools do. But they don’t have to — as is the case with snow days, for instance. Many have, like public schools, considered various options that include a full return to in-person classes, a blend of virtual and in-person classes, and all virtual learning. Ultimately, so far at least, area private schools have opted for a mix of in-person and virtual learning.
What about sports?
The North Carolina High School Athletic Association released a sports calendar for the upcoming school year. It pushes each sport’s season back with the earliest starting in November and the latest starting in April. Football, for example, will have practices starting in February.
This summer the NCHSSA approved summer workouts for sports teams. However, not all school districts allowed the workouts. CMS didn’t while nearby Union County did allow the workouts.
But, starting September 14, CMS started allowing voluntary workouts for high school students as part of a phased-in return to sports.
[Related Agenda story: Why the upcoming high school sports season could be life changing for CMS student-athletes]