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CMS Distancing Plan: One Week At School, Two At Home -- Maybe


Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools students could cycle through one week of in-person classes and two weeks of remote learning after they return to school Aug. 17. That’s one scenario for coping with the coronavirus presented Wednesday night. 

CMS officials outlined dramatic changes that will happen if the state requires schools and buses to be limited to 50% capacity for social distancing. The district plans to divide all classes into three groups, so only one-third of students are in classrooms at a time.

"So if you think about a classroom of, say, 21, that’s now three groupings of seven," said Deputy Superintendent Matt Hayes. "And those seven students coming in get that individualized attention from that teacher during the time that they’re there."

The other two groups learn from home until it's their turn at school. Hayes said splitting classes in half wouldn’t create enough space in all schools.

In addition to the three-week rotation cycle, the high school plan calls for grades 9-11 to work remotely every Friday, giving the building to seniors. 

"During that day we’re focusing not just on their academics but also the things that students seem to focus on in their senior year, which is applying to college, getting ready to move into a career," Hayes said.

Waiting For Cooper

The plan is complex. And a host of questions remain to be answered – including whether this plan will actually be needed.

In early June, the state told districts to plan for three reopening options: Everyone attending school, everyone learning remotely, and a hybrid that would limit schools and buses to 50% capacity for social distancing.

Gov. Roy Cooper had said he’d make a decision by July 1, so the CMS board scheduled its meeting for that night. But he delayed, saying state officials need more time to try to bring down COVID-19 numbers in hopes of an in-person return to classes.

"We want to get our students back in the classroom, and we want to make sure that we get this right," he said Wednesday afternoon.

The staggered scheduling is the CMS plan for the social distancing path, which will be required if state health officials decide it’s not safe to have all students present at once.

All Plans Bring Challenges

Even if schools are allowed to open at full capacity, some changes will be required, including new sanitation measures and temperature screenings for every student, employee and visitor who enters a school building.

Chief School Performance Officer Kathy Elling says staff have done time and motion studies and estimate the screening will take 30 seconds per student.

That’s going to eat into school time. Consider a 3,000-student high school: Even with 25 people screening them, it would take an hour to get everyone through.

And then there are masks, which are required for middle and high school students and all adults. They’re optional in elementary school, but several board members said even young children should be strongly encouraged to wear them to protect teachers.

Superintendent Earnest Winston said CMS has ordered two reusable masks for each employee, and "we’re strongly considering purchasing some masks so that we have those for those students who may not be able to provide any face coverings when they come to school."

All-Remote Option For Families

If the COVID numbers get worse over the next couple of weeks, Cooper could also order school buildings to stay closed, with everyone learning remotely. But he says he’s eager to avoid that path.

However, CMS families who don’t think a return to classes is safe for their children will be allowed to choose an all-remote program.

Cooper said he’ll announce a decision within the next couple of weeks. But Winston says CMS can’t wait that long.

"We need to begin building class schedules, ordering food for our students, creating those transportation rosters," he said.

Winston says the staff is focusing on the social distancing plan while waiting to hear what the governor decides. Still to be decided are the future of sports and other extracurricular activities, as well as plans to support young children whose parents can't be home with them.

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