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CMS Needs Quick Family Decisions On Full Remote Option

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools families have until Sunday to enroll their kids in a Full Remote Academy if they don’t feel safe letting them return to school. But CMS has chosen a remote experience for all students, at least for several weeks. 

Officials acknowledge it's a confusing scenario for families, and some variation is playing out across North Carolina. Last week Gov. Roy Cooper asked all districts to create a remote-learning option for families, while allowing students to return in person with social distancing on Aug. 17.

Several, including CMS and districts serving Durham, Hickory and Chapel Hill, have decided they’re not ready to bring students back until the coronavirus is under better control. Other districts are doing various types of rotations between in-person and at-home classes to allow safe distancing in schools.

Details of remote academies will be different in each district. In CMS, Deputy Superintendent Matt Hayes talked about the differences between the district’s Full Remote Academy and the remote learning that other students will do.

For starters, Full Remote Academy students won’t take part in the three- or four-day in-person orientation sessions that other CMS students will do Aug. 17-28.

Starting Aug. 31, lessons will be very similar for Full Remote and other students. They’ll all be learning from home, using lessons CMS has created to work in all possible scenarios, Hayes says.

"We hired 70-plus teachers over the summer and they have actually created lessons," Hayes said. "Those lessons are not built just for the Full Remote Academy. They’re built for any remote and also in-person."

'Heads Above' Spring Experience

Hayes says those classes will not be what students experienced from March through June. The new program includes a mix of group lessons conducted online and lessons done at the student’s convenience.

Credit David Boraks / WFAE
Deputy Superintendent Matt Hayes

"What’s been created and ready to launch this coming-up year is heads above anything we had then," he said.

And unless the state intervenes with new orders, Hayes says the virtual classes will feel a lot more like a traditional setting than they did last spring.

"What we are planning for is that yes, you will have grading as it has been done in years past. You will have assessments, quizzes, tests," he said.

It’s important to note that enrolling in the CMS Full Remote Academy is not like signing up for a virtual charter school, or even the district’s own Virtual High School. It’s more like choosing a program within the school a student is already enrolled in.

For instance, if a child is at Cotswold Elementary, Hayes says, "You will be served in that school by the principal of Cotswold Elementary. You will have access to the counselors at Cotswold Elementary School, and you will have access to teachers at Cotswold Elementary School."

Class scheduling gets a bit more complicated in high school.

"If I’ve got three kids at Myers Park and three kids at South Meck and 10 kids over at North Meck, and they all want to take a course, with the Full Remote Academy option we could leave them at their schools and create a course which is taught by one teacher at one of those schools but has students from all over Mecklenburg County," Hayes said.

Where Paths Diverge

At some point this fall, CMS may decide it’s safe to bring students back for socially distanced in-person classes. Unlike several other districts that have decided to open with the all-remote "Plan C," CMS set no time frame and doesn't have metrics for deciding when it's safe to return to "Plan B."

Whenever it happens, that's when the lives of Full Remote and regular students will diverge.

Regular CMS students will do rotations: one week of in-person classes and two weeks of remote learning to keep the population small at any given time.

Ideally, those students will have teachers they’ve been working with since orientation, and the Full Remote Academy students, who won’t return in person, will have different teachers – but all still within the same school. And Hayes says they’ll all be learning the same material at the same pace.

Full Remote Allows Access To Extracurriculars

Although Full Remote students won’t be in physical classes, they will have access to after-school activities. "That includes sports, that includes clubs, dances, proms, anything like that," Hayes said.

"We’ve already heard from parents now that basically have said, 'I don’t want my child in a school with 1,300 other kids – which for some of our high schools, that is a third – but I want my child out playing sports. Because they’re outside, they’re social distancing … and for the mental safety of my child I want them in some activity,' " Hayes said.

For current students, whatever parents decide by Sunday is what they’ll be locked into for the first semester – although Hayes says students can be added to the Full Remote Academy if there are new medical or family issues that affect safety. Families will get another chance to opt into or out of the Full Remote Academy for second semester.

Hayes says it’s important to get a solid count so students and teachers can be scheduled properly at each school. The district’s website says Full Remote enrollment in various magnet programs – such as Montessori, foreign languages and STEM – will determine whether those students can be offered those specialties. If remote enrollment is low, CMS isn’t guaranteeing those students will get the magnet experience, though they’ll retain their places in those magnet schools.

And CMS needs to know how many students will report in person when the time comes, so they can schedule bus route and classes.

CMS Full Remote Academy enrollment information in Nepali.

"We need to make sure that we know exactly how many kids are going in there and we need those numbers quick," Hayes said.

Enrollment forms for the Full Remote Academy are on the CMS website in English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Nepali and Burmese.

Hayes says CMS has enough laptops, iPads and mobile hotspots to ensure that all students can work remotely whether they do it full time or part time. And he says he believes the lesson plans will offer a solid educational experience. But he also says everyone is still learning and things could keep changing.

Remote Learning Plans In Other Districts

Wake County Public Schools, the only North Carolina district larger than CMS, opened its Virtual Academy enrollment July 10. On Monday, the final day for registration, the district tweeted that 67,000 students had signed up -- more than 40% of total enrollment.

Wake initially said it would open under Plan B, the in-person social distancing option, but now says its board will consider shifting to a remote-only opening as early as Tuesday.

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Ann Doss Helms has covered education in the Charlotte area for over 20 years, first at The Charlotte Observer and then at WFAE. Reach her at ahelms@wfae.org or 704-926-3859.