Sharmaine Davis would rather keep her kids at home than send them to school, and the recent metrics presented by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools’ metric advisory committee didn’t change her mind.
The committee presented a complete overview of its ‘Plan B’ Readiness Dashboard during a virtual update Thursday morning. The meeting is a follow-up to the sneak peek Kathy Elling, chief of school performance and member of the metrics advisory committee, shared during Tuesday’s CMS board meeting.
The dashboard, meant to guide schools reopening, consists of three levels of community spread based on Mecklenburg County’s Covid-19 cases:
- Minimal Spread (Green) – The community has less than 10 Covid-19 cases per 100,000 persons or less than 5% have tested positive on a seven-day average. In-person learning would be safe in this scenario.
- Moderate Spread (Yellow) – Covid-19 cases range from 10-100 per 100,000 cases, or 5-10% have tested positive on a seven-day average. Selective groups could return at this point.
- Substantial Spread (Red) – More than 100 Covid-19 cases per 100,000 persons or 10% have tested positive on a seven-day average. Virtual learning is recommended for all students in this scenario.
Meg Sullivan, the county’s medical director, said Mecklenburg currently falls within the moderate spread, averaging between 55 to 60 cases per 100,000 people.
Additionally, the dashboard will track:
- The number of current positive cases within the past 14 days
- Current persons in active quarantine within 14 days
- Classroom clusters within a school within 28 days
- Schools in the district that have one positive case within the last 14 days
- Schools with at least 25 individuals in active quarantine
- District operational metrics (Child nutrition, transportation, total staffing, custodial and nurses)
- School readiness metrics (Instructional staff, school facility, infection control and PPE supplies and health and safety training)
“It sounded good, but it’s no way CMS is ready,” said Davis, whose daughter attends J.M. Alexander Middle School along with a grandson at Eastover Elementary.
Davis is an advocate of remote learning but only if students’ parents are involved. She admits that her grandson isn’t doing well with remote learning. The 5-year-old is enrolled in the district’s exceptional children program, which specializes in teaching students with disabilities based on their individual needs — he’s legally blind and can only see out of one eye.
“Right now, my grandson has not learned anything,” she said. “I emailed his teacher about this because he doesn’t want to sit there in front of that iPad.”
Vacancies and facilities
CMS employs 19,000 people but vacancies have become a constant concern for parents and educators. Deputy Superintendent of Operations Carol Stamper said at least 90% of the 175 schools in the district will have to be adequately staffed for leaders to feel comfortable with bringing students back into classrooms.
The committee confirming 38 nursing and 39 teacher vacancies worry Davis and CMS math teacher Amanda Thompson.
“In a pandemic, we can’t have vacancies because we won’t be able to operate,” Thompson said. “Every school deserves a nurse and to be 100% staffed in case of teacher absences.”
Mecklenburg County Public Health Director Gibbie Harris said CMS has never filled 100% of nursing vacancies. Thompson said normalcy isn’t possible during a pandemic and urged the district to hire nurses before in-person classes begin.
Thompson was also frustrated with the committee’s responses regarding the lack of ventilation and airflow in schools.
“At Tuesday’s meeting, they talked about HVAC systems and said it was going to be added to the metrics. But today during the meeting, all of sudden now all the lists and schools are ready,” she told QCity Metro. “It seems forced and kind of rushed.”
Chief of School Performance Elling said CMS has a process to improve filters in schools, but it won’t prevent reopening plans. For schools that aren’t well-ventilated, Stamper suggested increasing social distancing models and other techniques to reduce exposure to the virus.
Thompson believes CMS is putting a Band-Aid on major problems to reopen schools for in-person classes. She said tangible outcomes and timelines for reopening schools would help ease parent concerns and prepare children accordingly for in-person learning.
To change operations in CMS, Thompson said the community needs to speak out and hold elected officials accountable.
“Sometimes, we as the Black community are so reactive that we talk about it after the vote has happened, and then it’s too late,” she complained. “We don’t know the information either, so we have to be informed about what’s going on so we can advocate for our babies.”
As an educator, she wants to close the opportunity gap but not at the risk of everyone’s safety.
“We all want to be back into the schools, but we can’t go there with the anxiety of knowing that the reopening process was rushed,” she shared. “Families and educators have to be valued enough to make sure that we get it right the first time.”
The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education is holding a special meeting on Sept. 16 at 6 p.m. to present a more in-depth overview of CMS’ reopening plans and the possibility of staff furloughs.
QCity Metro contacted Amanda Thompson after CMS school hours on Thursday.