CMS approves phased plan to bring students back to classrooms

Updated: Sep. 16, 2020 at 11:16 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools has approved a phased approach to bring students back into the classroom over the next few months. In addition, the board voted to give Superintendent Earnest Winston the authority to furlough hourly employees if necessary.

The board of education voted to approve the plan at their specially-called meeting Wednesday evening with a phased transition to in-person learning, similar to Plan B.

The start dates for the phases go as follows:

  • Sept. 29: Students in Exceptional Children (EC) programs return.
  • Oct. 12: Pre-K students return.
  • Nov. 2: K-5 students return (grade levels rotate with A,B,C cohorts).
  • Nov. 23: Middle school students return (grade levels rotate with A,B,C cohorts).
  • Dec. 14: High school students return for end of semester in-person testing, but in-person instruction doesn’t start until Jan. 5. (grade levels rotate with A,B,C cohorts)

Pre-K students do not have the A, B, C cohorts. They would all show up for their learning days, per NCDHHS guidance.

Testing in December for high school grade levels will be in-person testing, but their in-person instruction will not start until Jan. 5.

Schools with nontraditional grade spans, such as the district’s K-8 schools, Cochrane Collegiate Academy and Northwest School of the Arts, will return in carefully sequenced phases, with students in grades six through eight returning with other middle school students, and students in grades nine through 12 returning with other high school students.

Students whose families opted to participate in the Full Remote Academy will remain in the academy through the first semester unless families request an exemption. Any requests to transfer from the Full Remote Academy into the in-person rotation will be addressed by schools individually.

The safety metrics in the plan set specific thresholds for determining when a school or schools have infection rates that would trigger action. To see the full plan, click here.

The district will also communicate additional details about the phased return to in-person instruction, including classroom social distancing, transportation and bus routes, school and classroom sanitation, nutrition services, and state-mandated health/safety checks and temperature screenings.

A database of COVID cases by school and date will be updated weekly and shared with families. Parents should update their contact information with schools to ensure they receive this timely information.

CMS Superintendent Earnest Winston opened Wednesday night’s meeting by saying there is no scenario that a district anywhere could choose that would protect from all risks. Winston says they will make sure they do their best to protect everyone as much as they can, emphasizing high-risk students and staff.

Winston says the board already voted they will move to bring students in the Exceptional Children (EC) program back into the classroom on Sept. 29. These are students with disabilities or with the most complex and intensive needs. The EC population in CMS is about 2,500 students. Schools that could reopen for these students include Metro School, Charlotte Mecklenburg Academy and other specialized learning facilities.

Staff at schools serving EC programs are expected to report back on Sept. 28. All other teachers will report to their school buildings two weeks before their students return.

As far as the phased approach, board officials broke down several layers of the plan.

In Phase 1, Bright Beginnings and NC Pre-K would be the first grade levels going back for in-person instruction.

The next grade levels would happen in phases, as high school students would be the last grades to be phased back in for in-person learning. The dates for these grade levels to return are above.

CMS Board members said they would be looking at case positive rate and the percent of positive tests for Mecklenburg County while making decisions.

If those numbers are in the yellow, officials say it is considered they can continue with in-person learning.

The CMS Board says they’ll be doing audits to ensure schools can be ready when it comes to personal protection equipment and classroom setup.

Officials say the school district will ask schools to designate areas for entry and dismissal points, and each school will have guidance catered to their layout.

As far as for school buses, officials say there will be one student per seat on the bus and face coverings need to be worn. Parents and students would be required to fill out a form and give to the bus driver each day, saying they are symptom free before they can board the bus.

School buses will be sprayed down with electrostatic sprayers at the start, between each route and at the end of the day for cleaning routines.

When it pertains to meals, when a student is in-person instruction, they’ll get breakfast and lunch at school. When they are on their off rotation they can participate in the CMS EATS program.

Officials discussed a daily on-site option offered for children of school-based staff and bus drivers. Students would participate in their remote learning supervised by school staff.

When it comes to the CMS Full Remote Academy, students can transfer into or out of the academy if a member of the family gets a new medical diagnosis making them high risk, there is a sudden change in access to childcare, there is a change in finances or a change in school assignment.

CMS officials say there are 39 sites that currently don’t have outside air flow, with 36 being at schools.

Many CMS teachers have voiced that HVAC systems in their schools are one of their main worries, as many say they don’t work or work poorly.

Facility management says they’re now suggesting teachers and schools to open their doors to let fresh air in, recognizing there is a contradiction there considering the security of the school.

Officials say there are 31 custodial vacancies in the district.

The CMS board also voted unanimously to grant the superintendent the authority to implement furloughs, if needed.

About 140 employees are at risk of a full furlough, and about 1,225 are at risk of a partial furlough. CMS says they don’t anticipate having to act on those full furloughs, and believe they are weeks away from having to consider that. They’re trying to offer modified work until then.

The Board vote on furloughs allows Winston to use full and partial furloughs of hourly employees if necessary. No employee will be furloughed before Sept. 21. The furlough authority is temporary and expires June 1, 2021.

“We want to keep everyone working and earning salaries but the COVID pandemic has disrupted operations with budgetary implications,” said Winston. “We may have to make some very tough choices. However, furloughed employees may be recalled more quickly and with fewer hurdles than we could face with layoffs. We will use this flexibility to help our employees as much as possible.”

CMS human resources will provide updates on options during any use of furlough.

“We do not want to have to furlough anyone, especially in this time of economic hardship caused by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Dashew said. “But we may have to do that before our schools are fully back to normal operations. We have authorized full and partial furloughs because we want to minimize the burden on our employees. A partial furlough will allow an employee to still be paid part of his or her salary.”

Whether parents were for or against bringing kids back in the classroom, one thing they did agree on was transparency. Many parents said they’d like the district to be transparent about what metrics they will use to decide when students will come back in the classroom.

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