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CMS Decides When Schools Will Reopen ... But Not How

Gwendolyn Glenn

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board unanimously approved a new 2020-21 calendar Tuesday that reopens schools Aug. 17. But board Chair Elyse Dashew says families and employees aren’t as concerned about when schools will reopen as how.

"There are an avalanche of questions and concerns as to how to resume traditional learning and teaching in the classroom while being careful about the health and safety of staff and students and families," she said.

Few seem to think it will be safe to pack kids onto buses and let them mingle in crowded halls, classrooms and cafeterias, as they did before the coronavirus pandemic.

State Holds Power

Dashew says lots of constituents are sending suggestions about how to manage, but they need to know that "in order for us to do anything much different than the traditional pre-pandemic approach to school, we’re going to need the state legislature to allow us to be flexible."

In North Carolina, the state has the constitutional responsibility to run public schools. It provides most of the money and makes most of the rules. Dashew said CMS will work with legislators to convey the needs.

Meanwhile, state Board of Education Chair Eric Davis told WFAE earlier Tuesday that his board hopes to offer more guidance next week. But don’t look for final answers, he says.

"It will continue to evolve," Davis said. "I think that’s why it’s important that we plan across a sort of spectrum of scenarios, because the situation will continue to change throughout the summer, and it will likely change throughout the school year next year."

One Week Live, Next Week Remote

The new CMS calendar has students coming to class Aug. 17, attending in person for a week, then shifting back to remote learning for the following week, when the Republican National Convention is scheduled to be in town. Dashew noted that there are questions in the news about whether that will happen, but said CMS has to assume it's coming.

First semester will end Dec. 21, before winter break, and the year will end on May 28, two weeks earlier than the version approved almost a year ago.

State law normally mandates a late-August opening. The Aug. 17 date for 2020, which is mandatory for all districts and charter schools, is designed to help schools get back on track after this year’s disruption.

Flexibility Is Key

Several CMS board members noted that they’ve spent years asking the General Assembly flexibility to start earlier and let students take exams before winter break. 

Other districts used a loophole in the calendar law to open early in August this year. They claimed that because their schools host summer programs, they qualify as year-round schools.

One of those, Iredell-Statesville Schools, had planned to open Aug. 5 in 2020. The ISS board approved a new calendar that complies with the Aug. 17 date.

Tuesday night the CMS board also approved a 2021-22 calendar that follows the regular calendar law, starting on Aug. 25, 2021. Although the vote was unanimous, several members said they hope they get to scrap this one and try again. They said they hope the coming year's forced change shows legislators that students are better off if they don't have to "come back from winter break and then be in a wind-sprint toward the end of the semester," as member Sean Strain put it.

Board members Lenora Shipp and Rhonda Cheek said they would reluctantly vote for a version that starts late, only because the state demands it.

"I will go along with this tonight but I do not think that this is the end of this calendar discussion on '21-22," Cheek said.


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