Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools leadership presented three plans for reopening schools at a special meeting Wednesday. With less than six weeks from the Aug. 17 start date, and without a final decision from Gov. Roy Cooper, district leaders reviewed options that addressed Covid-19 conditions at the start of the 2020-2021 school year.
School board members will vote to approve a plan after Cooper announces the statewide recommendation, which he says will happen within the next few weeks. Cooper was expected to provide direction for district leaders earlier this week but delayed the announcement.
The reopening plan will depend on whether North Carolina is meeting key public health metrics. Students and staff will return in person full-time with minimal social distancing if Covid-19 metrics stabilize or trend in a positive direction (Plan A). If metrics worsen, schools will operate at 50% capacity with moderate social distancing requirements (Plan B). Schools will move forward with virtual learning full-time if metrics worsen significantly (Plan C).
During Wednesday’s virtual meeting, CMS Deputy Superintendent of Academics Matthew Hayes noted that the district’s final plans can’t be less restrictive than ones established by state health and education officials.
Currently, school officials are leaning toward the 50% capacity model — a complex hybrid plan combining in-person and remote instruction while maintaining student and staff health and safety. Under this plan:
- Pre-K through eighth-grade students split into three groups assigned by school principals. Students follow an A, B, C week schedule, rotating between a week of in-person instruction and two weeks of remote learning.
- Students in grades 9-11 — also following an A, B, C schedule — return to classrooms Monday through Thursday during their assigned week and participate in remote learning on Fridays.
- High school seniors follow a fully remote schedule, except on Fridays when they attend in-person to also focus on college and career activities.
Carol Stamper, deputy superintendent of operations, explained that students within the same household will be assigned to the same rotation schedule.
An alternative allows parents to select a fully remote-learning option for K-8 students if they’re concerned about sending students to school during the pandemic. The program would operate as a “school within a school,” keeping the students assigned to their current school.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education chair Elyse Dashew said, “We are confident that these plans give CMS the opportunity to educate all our students while protecting their health, and after the governor issues his statewide recommendation, our decision to implement the chosen plan is one for which we are well-informed.”
Monitoring health and safety
The number of students who ride school buses reduces from a maximum of 72 students to 24; only one student would be allowed per seat to keep apart the recommended six-foot distance. Parents must attest that their students are healthy before boarding the bus. Before entering any school facilities, students, staff and visitors will undergo symptom and temperature screenings.
Administrators said they have to figure out the staffing challenges to accommodate physical distancing. For example, a typical Kindergarten classroom required one teacher for every 20 students. Under new safety guidelines, classroom capacity is reduced to 12 students, therefore, 20 students must split between two classrooms and need two teachers to properly adhere to distancing requirements. It also creates difficulties to staff in-person and virtual classrooms simultaneously.
The state will supply two months of equipment and personal protective equipment for screeners, including thermometers, gowns, face shields, gloves and surgical masks. Additionally, CMS has purchased two cloth face coverings for each employee. CMS Superintendent Earnest Winston says the district is strongly considering buying masks for students who may not be able to get them on their own. Masks are required for middle-school and high-school students but only encouraged for elementary students.
“We are committed to helping all students learn and succeed during this pandemic and beyond,” Winston said. “Our first priority is to provide a robust educational experience for our students and a safe environment for all.”