In an unanimous vote Tuesday, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board approved a plan that will allow for in-school learning days, starting next week.

The board’s decision comes as county health officials report a significant decline in the number of new Covid-19 cases. It also comes as more lawmakers and health advocates call for schools to reopen nationwide.

Under the new CMS plan:

  • Beginning March 15, middle and high school students will be on A and B rotations, allowing each group to have two days of in-school learning. Group A will have in-school learning on Mondays and Tuesdays, while Group B will have Thursdays and Fridays. 
  • On March 22, K-8 and K-5 schools will end their current rotations. Instead, students in those schools will have four days of in-person learning — Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday.
  • All CMS students will have a remote learning day on Wednesdays. 
  • End-of-course testing will begin on May 12. 
  • Pre-K and students with disabilities will continue with in-person learning. 

Before the vote, most elementary students were on an A/B schedule, with in-school classes twice a week and remote learning the other three days. Middle and high school students were divided into three groups, with one week of in-person learning followed by two weeks of remote instruction.

What has changed: In addition to fewer Covid-19 cases being reported statewide, Gov. Roy Cooper last month began allowing Covid-19 vaccinations for child care workers, teachers in grades K-12, and for school employees. 

“I am praying that the viral loads will continue to come down and that we can end this year on a positive note with our children in schools, because that’s where they need to be,” Thelma Byers-Bailey, the CMS board vice chair, said Tuesday. “This is the next step we needed to take, and we needed to take it now.”

Board Chair Elyse Dashew echoed that sentiment, calling the board’s decision “the right time” to add more in-person learning days.  

Consequences ‘too high’

Not everyone agreed with the board’s decision. During a portion of the meeting that was open to public comments, some teachers and parents expressed concerns. 

Teacher Kim Corpening outlined three issues — she said teachers would need more time to prepare, all teachers aren’t fully vaccinated, and some parents will have to rearrange child care for K-5 students who no longer will have multiple remote learning days. She suggested a later starting day, after April 12, which would be after spring break, to increase the number of in-school learning days.

Teacher Steven Oreskovic said CMS was rushing the decision. He also suggested the board appoint a teacher-advisor who would have no vote but would be a voice for teachers. 

“Give a teacher a seat at the table,” he said. 

Elizabeth Ouzts, a CMS parent, said the proposal didn’t match up with CMS’ metrics dashboard, which board members said they’d use when deciding how to reopen schools amid the pandemic. As of March 5, there were 80 schools with positive Covid-19 cases. Under the CMS metric, more than 50 schools with positive cases would put CMS in the “red,” which means there’s substantial community spread.

“We have never been out of the red,” Ouzts said. “Consequences of getting this wrong are too high.”

‘It would be amazing’

Breana Fowler, the student advisor for the CMS school board, told QCity Metro hours before the meeting that a lot of her peers were “craving in-person learning,” based on surveys and polls she conducted. 

“It would be amazing,” she said.

Although Fowler likes the idea of more in-person days, she said she’s also concerned about protecting CMS teachers and staff. 

“It’s all a learning curve, and I don’t want anything to go wrong,” she said. 

With end-of-course testing set to begin May 12, Fowler said she’d like to have more in-person classes so that she and other students will be better prepared.

Jonathan is a former QCity Metro reporter who covered Charlotte neighborhoods north of uptown. He also reported on education, public safety and health.

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