Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools will reopen next month with two weeks of in-person onboarding before moving to remote learning. School board members voted 7-1, with one abstention, to approve “Plan B-Plus Remote” during a nearly six-hour emergency meeting livestreamed Wednesday from Mallard Creek High School.
The decision addresses worsening Covid-19 conditions and follows Gov. Roy Cooper’s announcement a day earlier that granted North Carolina school districts the option to reopen with social distancing measures in place or remote-only instruction.
Plan B-Plus Remote looks significantly different from plans introduced during the school board’s July 1 meeting. In this latest version, K-12 students will be assigned to one of three tracts that will each get three to four days of face time with teachers during the first two weeks of school.
- Tract A will attend school Aug. 17 – 19
- Tract B will attend school Aug. 20 – 21 and Aug. 24 – 25
- Tract C will attend school Aug. 26 – 28
- All students begin remote learning on Aug. 31
A “Full Remote Academy” launches Aug. 17 for students who don’t want to attend orientation in person.
Medical experts say district must balance risk
A lineup of local health experts presented data and answered hours of board members’ questions to shed light on when schools could safely reopen.
Mecklenburg County has more than 15,000 lab-confirmed cases of Covid-19. That’s more than any other county in the state. Heading into fall, that’s not the only health risk concerning Public Health Director Gibbie Harris.
“Flu season is the one thing that has me terribly concerned,” she said. “Once we get into flu season, we’re going to need to make sure to get as many people vaccinated as possible because it just complicates the whole issue.”
Novant Health pediatrician Catherine Ohmstede said the virus has “been really gentle” to children. The hospital has tested 15,000 children under 18 for the coronavirus. She said 2,000 tested positive, with 10 children sick enough to be admitted. One child became critically ill, but Ohmstede noted the child had severe underlying conditions.
Gary Little, chief medical officer at Atrium Health, told board members there were risks associated with any decisions they made. They should work to minimize risk, he said, because they can’t eliminate it.
“All indications to me is that we’re going to be living with this virus for the next year and a half,” he predicted. “If you don’t open now, when could you open? You could be looking at next fall.”
Board members react
Vice Chair Thelma Byers-Bailey said Plan B-Plus Remote will help the kids who “would otherwise get lost.” During an update in May, Superintendent Earnest Winston noted that administrators hadn’t connected with roughly 3,000 students since schools closed on March 13.
“When we tried to go remote last time, we lost track of people,” Byers-Bailey said. “This [plan] eliminates that. Everyone’s accounted for.”
District 1 board member Rhonda Cheek proposed a substitute plan similar to the original Plan B — except students would physically attend school the first two weeks, followed by a week of remote learning. Sean Strain, who represents District 6, also supported the alternate plan, but it failed in a 7-2 vote.
District 5’s Margaret Marshall said the plan is not an indefinite approach but would allow time for school leaders to figure out how to return safely to schools.
“There are way more questions than answers. We need some more time, and that’s what we’re looking to do with this program,” she said.
Superintendent Winston said approximately 2,100 employees have jobs that can’t be done remotely, citing that it would cost approximately $3.8 million every two weeks to pay staff unable to work remotely, such as bus drivers.
Ruby Jones, of District 3, mentioned inequity in school conditions.
“Some of our schools are just unhealthy environments. There’s inequity … and there are some reasons why some of our people are not going to be reassured: the spaces, the environment, the lack of support, the conditions they know that will greet them.
What about the teachers?
As board members debated Plan B-Plus Remote, a barrage of comments flooded the chat box on the board’s Facebook page.
“Teachers are already doing EVERYTHING other than what they are supposed to be doing and that’s TEACHING!! That’s not fair to them!” Jessica Williams wrote.
“We need the teachers voices amplified,” wrote Alejandra Allie Kaul.
“…teachers being treated like test subjects,” Tushar Arvind.
Earlier in the day, an online petition urged board members to vote for a fully virtual plan.
During the meeting, several people left comments for board member Jones praising her for injecting the perspectives of teachers.
“We need the time to get teachers more comfortable, but not just teachers, everyone is in a state of angst,” Jones said.
She also asked how the district would support teachers who were parents of CMS students.
CMS officials say additional details about the plan will be released in the coming weeks.