CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools superintendent Earnest Winston addressed school readiness Friday afternoon, holding to the plan to start returning students on February 15.
“We are very close to retuning out students an staff to in-person learning,” Winston said Friday, hoping to get to some sense of “normalcy.” Winston also said the district will provide summer opportunities for academic acceleration. The plans are still in discussion.
“We believe we have the right plan in place,” Winston said, and w plan on implementing that plan on February 15.”
CMS’ plan is to bring a portion of students back on February 15 and the remainder of students back on February 22.
The CMS briefing came days after North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper and State Superintendent Catherine Truitt urged school districts across the state to reopen for in-person instruction.
Some schools, including private and elementary schools, have already been permitted to return to school full-time.
The call from the governor and state education leaders is to recommend that all K-12 school districts across the state to allow in-person instruction for all students.
Winston plans to make a recommendation to the board of education for students to return to in-person learning in mid-February. But it’s not final until the board votes to approve it on Feb. 9. CMS says nearly a third of students are failing at least one class. Many parents say that it’s partially due to the burden of virtual learning.
Truitt said this is time for school districts to allow students and teachers to return to school. However, children and teachers who are at-risk of COVID-19 can still have the option of learning remotely.
Cooper and state health and education leaders sent a letter to local school board members and superintendents encouraging in-person instruction across the state.
“Hard truth, even with immediate action, we face a challenging pathway ahead,” Truitt said. “Even before the COVID crisis, the majority of our students were already behind in reading and math proficiency. Imagine what has happened over nearly a year of remote learning.”
“This crisis has negatively impacted students’ mental health and overall well-being, as well as their academic preparation,” Truitt added.
Many students have struggled with adapting to in-person learning caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools officials tell WBTV that more children are missing class and falling behind. Many parents are left with a difficult decision – should I hold my child back in school?
“Now is time to get our children back in the classroom,” Cooper said. “Students who are ready to return to the classrooms should have that chance.”
On Tuesday, North Carolina health officials reported its smallest single-day coronavirus increase since Dec. 27, with 2,926 new cases. Hospitalizations are also at their lowest since Dec. 15.
Recently, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report saying it is possible for schools to safely reopen and limit the spread of the coronavirus.
Cooper didn’t issue an executive order, but he is issuing guidance that allows districts to make their own decision on reopening.
“School is important for reasons beyond academic instruction,” Cooper said. “School is where students learn social skills, get reliable meals, and find their voices. Teachers play an important role in keeping students safe by identifying cases of abuse, hunger, homelessness and other challenges.”
CMS 9th grade teacher Lori Carter told WBTV she was frustrated by Governor Cooper’s announcement.
Carter said she sees teachers in neighboring counties get the vaccine, and she believes it should happen in Mecklenburg County.
“If we can just delay entry until the fourth quarter on March 15th that’s going to give the district additional time to put pressure on the state and Mecklenburg County Health Department to prioritize teachers,” Carter said. “To get us vaccinated and get all other student-facing staff vaccinated and then have kids come back into the buildings.”
Schools shut down in mid-March during the start of the pandemic
For most students, remote instruction has been the new, everyday way of learning.
Cooper said 90 or 115 school districts are providing in-person instruction for some or all of their students.
“What’s new is that research done right here in NC tells us in-person learning is working and that students can be in classrooms safely with the right safety protocols,” Cooper said. “It is safe to reopen our schools.”
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is preparing to return students whose families have not opted for the Full Remote Academy to in-person instruction.
“Unless our Board votes to change that plan, pre-K students, students with disabilities identified for in-person services through an IEP process, students in grades K-5 and students at K-8 schools will return on A/B rotations beginning Feb. 15,” CMS said in a statement. “Students at traditional middle schools in grades 6-8 and high school students in grades 9-12 will return on A/B/C rotations beginning Feb. 22.”
On Monday, the Republicans of the North Carolina state senate filed a bill to reopen schools with an option for fully in-person learning.
Senate Bill 37, “In-Person Learning Choice for Families,” requires schools to provide access to in-person learning under Plan A (minimal social distancing) for students with exceptional needs.
It also requires schools to provide in-person learning options for all K-12 students under either Plan A or Plan B (moderate social distancing).
Families would still have the choice of remote learning for the remainder of the 2020-21 school year.
Schools will be required to follow all guidance from the Strong Schools NC Public Health Toolkit, which was developed by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.
Studies have shown that with mitigation efforts schools can reopen safely.
Last week, the CDC concluded there is “little evidence that schools have contributed meaningfully to increased community transmission.”
A study by the American Academy of Pediatrics in conjunction with Duke University and other institutions has concluded that the reopening of schools to in-person learning can be done safely.
The study looked at data from 11 school districts in North Carolina that were open for in-person instruction from August through October.
At least 90,000 students and staff are part of those systems and data showed, according to the study, that only 32 cases of COVID-19 could be traced back to transmission inside the schools.
Doctors who examined the data said following CDC rules were having a significant effect.